One of the most interesting things about the Kentucky Derby is you just can’t know who is going to win. When you combine a huge number of runners with a distance none have ever run before and add the inexperience of most of these three-year-olds it equals uncertainty. Every Derby hopeful has gone through a building process on the road to the first Saturday in May. With that in mind, one of the top contenders in Keeneland’s major prep for the world’s most famous horse race may have laid more of a foundation in a loss rather than a win.
Smile Happy has been carefully handled by the cunning Kenny McPeek. Picking his spots, the Kentucky-based trainer has started this talented son of Runhappy three times. His fourth will come on April 9 in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Hoping to have a fresh horse for the Triple Crown trail, some building blocks were put down in his only start this year.
Back on February 19, an unbeaten Smile Happy went to post against nine other talented runners in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana. After a rough and tumble mile and an eighth, McPeek’s man closed to finish second behind Epicenter. Even though he tasted defeat for the first time, it may have been better for him in the grand scheme.
“It was a race in which he faced many challenges he hadn’t seen before”, says regular rider Corey Lanerie. “We had to navigate a lot of traffic and we had a lot of things go against us. In the end, he closed to finish second despite all those obstacles.”
The mile and an eighth cruise over the Keeneland dirt will offer another test for Smile Happy. Likely to face eleven other talented runners with eyes on a trip to Churchill Downs, this grandson of Pleasant Tap will need to bring it on April 9.
“We are looking for a big effort here”, says Lanerie. “This race never comes up easy and we realize he needs to step up. If we hope to compete in the Derby we need to be able to compete in the Blue Grass.”
The $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes is carded as race 9 with an expected post time of 5:10 pm Eastern.