Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Java's War, who was being seriously considered for the UAE Derby March 30, will stay home and point instead for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Apr. 13, trainer Kenny McPeek said during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference March 19.
Java's War, owned and bred by Charles Fipke, turned in a huge run from last in the field of nine at Tampa to be beaten three lengths by the 2-5 favorite Verrazano, while finishing 4 1/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Falling Sky.
Following the race, McPeek said he and Fipke were looking at the $2 million UAE Derby, which would have made it unlikely he could have come back and run in the Kentucky Derby, considering how long it normally takes American horses to recover from such a trip.
"Mr. Fipke was back and forth on where to go," McPeek said. "We felt the UAE Derby was a really good spot, but more for financial reasons. We discussed it and Mr. Fipke said, 'Let's just keep him home and run in the Blue Grass,' and I was fine with that. He finished third in the Breeders' Futurity over Keeneland's Polytrack and handled it pretty good, and the Blue Grass is a grade I. His pedigree on his female side is strictly grass, and in the long run I think he's going to be a grass horse. But with a major Derby prep being run on synthetic, it's a pretty good option for us."
Speaking of his female family, his dam, Java, is a full-sister to Fiji, who was named the 1998 United States champion female grass horse, winning four major grass stakes. His third dam, Careless Virgin, is a half-sister to Cacoethes, winner of the Turf Classic and placed in the group I English Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, Juddmonte International, and Japan Cup. Careless Virgin also is a half-sister to Fabulous Notion, winner of the Santa Susana Stakes, and to Not So Careless, the dam of dual Grade 1 stakes winner on grass Subordination.
Another recent change in plans for McPeek was to wait an extra week for the Florida Derby with Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes runner up Frac Daddy, who was originally scheduled to run in the March 23 Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes. The son of Scat Daddy , owned by Magic City Thoroughbred Partners, grabbed a quarter severely in the March 9Holy Bull Stakes, in which he finished sixth, and also has been recovering from a throat ulcer.
"I know he'll be facing tough horses, but he's an immature horse and prefers a smaller field," McPeek said. "His broodmare sire, Skip Away, was not a top 2-year-old and matured with age, and we hope he does the same thing. He ripped up his leg pretty bad; it was a serious grabbed quarter. He bled all over everything, and we had to patch it up. It was unfortunate, and we we're humbled by it, but now we've got to get him back and prove it again."
McPeek will be represented in the Spiral Stakes by Taken by the Storm, a son of Stormy Atlantic , who has had once race on a synthetic surface, finishing first in a maiden race at Keeneland, only to be disqualified to second for bumping his rival in the stretch.
"His two dirt races were not all that great, and I don't know why," McPeek said. "He seems to handle it in the morning. Running in the Spiral, it's one of those deals where we said, 'Let's see what we got.' He came out his last race strong and you only get one shot. He deserves a chance."