American Sailor
King Fury won the Lexington. Photo Coady Photography/Keeneland.

Trainer Kenny McPeek is the defending Preakness champion, having conditioned the filly Swiss Skydiver to victory in the 2020 edition of the race. And he might just be back to defend that crown this year with Lexington Stakes winner King Fury.

That runner has 20 Derby points, which, without further defections, would leave him on the outside looking in. But McPeek says he’s not losing sleep over it; the Derby’s Plan A, but the trainer has a pretty good Plan B, too.

“I think if we could get into the field, we’d be thrilled to,” McPeek said on Off to the Races Radio. “I’m not going to put much energy into, you know, counting every day. We’re going to plan on entering and see. If he’s up to making the field, great. And if he doesn’t, we’ll go to the Preakness.”

King Fury, owned by Fern Circle Stables and Three Chimneys Farm LLC, is a son of Curlin out of the multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Taris, by Flatter. He cost a cool $950,000 at the Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Select Yearling Sale and is starting to show what his connections saw in him then.

After winning at first asking as a juvenile, two races later he won the Street Sense Overnight Stake at Churchill Downs, defeating recent Grade 1 Arkansas Derby Super Stock.

But then he was seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and fifth in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, and he didn’t start as a sophomore until April 10 in the Lexington.

Sent off at 18-1 in that race, King Fury and jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. rallied from well back to win by nearly three lengths in a major upset. After appearing a bit uncomfortable early over the sloppy going, King Fury was able to settle, save ground, tip out for the stretch run, and win as much the best.

“He’s a really good horse, and he’s doing exceptionally well right now,” McPeek said. “[H]is race in the Lexington was powerful, and I think the mile-and-a-quarter [of the Kentucky Derby] would be right up his alley.”

A year ago, McPeek brought Swiss Skydiver to Baltimore. The filly hooked up with Derby winner Authentic at the three-eighths pole, and those two duked it out the rest of the way, leaving the rest of the field far behind while Swiss Skydiver prevailed by a neck in a Preakness for the ages.

“Any time you can knock down a race like the Preakness, it was ecstatic,” McPeek said. “The way that race unfolded was amazing, and certainly to be on the right side of that win was awesome.”

Swiss Skydiver, who subsequently won the Eclipse Award as top three-year-old filly, began her 2021 campaign with a good-looking score in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita Park March 13 and is slated to face two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Monomoy Girl in Saturday’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.


“We’re just hoping she gets away clean, and then she gets in a nice what I call ‘12s’ rhythm and then gets a chance to make a run,” McPeek said of Swiss Skydiver. “She’s obviously a really, really good filly, and the pace of the race means everything. So let’s see how it all unfolds.”

Soon enough, though, McPeek will turn his attention to King Fury and the unfolding developments in the Kentucky Derby and beyond. And all in all, McPeek likes the position he and his charge are in.

“I do think this horse is sitting on a big one… He’s a good horse, and hopefully he gets the chance to show himself,” the trainer said.