Kevin McKathan To Give Training A Try

Kevin McKathan | Fasig-Tipton photo

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Kevin McKathan has many talents. One of the principals behind McKathan Bros. Training Center in Ocala, he's helped start the career of many a good horse, including 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (Pioneerof the Nile), and he's also a major force as a consignor at the 2-year-old sales. But he's ready for something different. Thirty-three years after starting his last horse, McKathan will return to the training ranks when he sends out long shot Fenwick (Curlin) in Saturday's GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland.

“I am very excited,” he said. “My brother (J.B., who passed away in 2019) and I used to train horses at the racetrack years ago and the reason we started doing what we've been doing is because we weren't training good horses. I've always said that bad horses make bad horse trainers. Whenever you can touch a good one, it's fantastic.”

McKathan started his last horse in 1989 and shortly thereafter started up his new business in Ocala. There wasn't time for much else.

“For years and years, I've always had 150 horses at the house,” he said. “It's not like I could just head out and run around at the races.”

McKathan bought Fenwick for $52,000 at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Fall yearling sale for owner Jeremiah Rudan. The original plan was to sell him as a 2-year-old at theFasig-Tipton Gulfstream sale, but he was withdrawn. Rudan decided to race him and sent the colt on to trainer Steve Asmussen. McKathan had high expectations for Fenwick, but he lost his first four starts. Things hit bottom when he was beaten by 24 3/4 lengths in a Feb. 13 maiden special weight race at the Fair Grounds. The decision was then made to send him back to McKathan in Ocala and to more or less start over.

“In his first race, he ran a huge seven-eighths and just got beat,” McKathan said. “By Curlin, we had high hopes for him. He looked like a two-turn horse, but after his first start, he had such bad racing luck every time he started. Jeremiah got a little disappointed and had us bring him home to Ocala. We went over him and he was in perfect condition. We put him out in a field for a couple of days to get some sun on his back.”

Fenwick was turned over to trainer David Fisher and sent to Tampa Bay Downs, where he broke his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths on March 12, beating the 1-20 favorite Commandperformance (Union Rags), who was second in the GI Champagne S. for trainer Todd Pletcher. Commandperformance, still a maiden, is back in the Blue Grass.

“He ran a huge race at Tampa,” McKathan said. “He finally got things his way and finally ran the way Steve and I always expected he could. I joked with Jeremiah before the race. How could we be so unlucky to run into a horse who was second in a Grade I in a maiden race at Tampa? But our horse ran great. For the Blue Grass, we were planning on moving him to someone. Jeremiah said that since I was taking the horse up to Keeneland why not just put myself down as the trainer of record? He talked me into it.”

Rudan planted a seed and McKathan has become interested in seeing where the training business can take him.

“I believe I can combine everything,” he said. “I have a great staff. If you think about it, we travel somewhere every month, whether it's for a horse sale or for a horse race. It's not undoable. It's just a matter of working things out.”

Fenwick is the only horse that McKathan has as a trainer. For now, that's good enough.

“This is definitely something I think I will be able to do,” he said of training. “I will enjoy this one, take a shot at them in the Blue Grass and if we make the Derby, I'll be there for it. I don't think this is a one-shot deal so far as my training. We've all been horse trainers our whole lives. It's just how you plan on going about it.”

McKathan won just seven races in his first go-round as a trainer and his stable earnings were just $30,461. That's what can happen when you train slow horses at tracks like River Downs, Beulah Park and Birmingham. All these years later he has a starter in the $1-million Blue Grass.

“I am expecting big things from this horse,” he said. “It's exciting and it's fun.”

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