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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at 12:00 AM

WITH HOPEFUL EYE ON THE BELMONT STAKES SEVEN SET TO "PREP" IN SATURDAY’S PETER PAN STAKES

On Saturday 7 colts have been entered in the 1 1/8 mile Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park.

Traditionally the Peter Pan has been thought of as a prep race for the Grade I Belmont Stakes, to be run 4 weeks from now but based on how few three-year olds have moved from this race into Belmont Stakes success* it is germane to just look at this race as a separate entity given that most of the connections of recent Peter Pan runners, as is the case this year, need this race more as an indicator of where their horses move from here regarding the developing 3-year old hierarchy than they are using it as a prep for the Belmont Stakes.

Case in point is the Todd Pletcher trained Commissioner. The colt appeared to be bearing up for the big prep races early on in 2014 when he won his 3-year old debut convincingly in an important 9 furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park on January 3. While still well-regarded, Commissioner has nonetheless failed to duplicate that form in three subsequent graded stakes races.

The son of A.P. Indy followed that promising allowance win with a no-show, no-excuse performance in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes, getting beat 10 lengths by Wildcat Red, who on comparative standards was not up to matching talent with the best in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Next came a flat third behind Chitu, another not up to Kentucky Derby standards and Midnight Hawk, who was beaten at 2-5 in the Illinois Derby in the Sunland Derby at Sunland park before attempting to regroup in the Arkansas Derby and staggering home 6th, beaten 11 lengths.

Pletcher had little to say about either the Fountain Of Youth or Sunland Derby but made claims that Commissioner acted up so much in the paddock at Oaklawn that he was finished before he even got to the track.

Interestingly the colt has been installed as the 5-2 second choice. Whether that represents a true gauge on the colt’s yet to be shown talent or the speculation that the public will jump on the Pletcher/Castellano connection remains to be seen. If history counts for anything at least the connections can look to Commissioner’s sire A.P. Indy and hope for a repeat of what that one did when he won both the Peter Pan and the Belmont Stakes in 1992. On form the colt will need a lot more than lineage, however.

As is often the case, Pletcher has more than one uncoupled entrant in a stakes race and his Tapit colt Matterhorn will leave from the rail under John Velazquez.
The lightly raced colt will be making just his fourth career start after running third in an entry level allowance race at Aqueduct on March 28. Listed at 6-1 on the ML the colt will need to find more early speed if he wants to remain in contention in this short field, especially in a race that is, even at 9 furlongs, run around one turn at Belmont. If you are looking for the glass half full approach it is worth noting that the colt was a 625K yearling purchase and the allowance race was against a decent group of older horses. If he has an upside it might come on Saturday.

Installed as the 2-1 ML favorite is the Christophe Clement trained Tonalist. Another lightly raced colt, the son of Tapit appeared on his way earlier this year when he ran a bang-up second behind the well-regarded Florida Derby winner Constitution, who himself was forced to be taken off the Derby trail, in one of those key made for top 3-year old allowance races they card each winter at Gulfstream Park. But soon after Tonalist contracted a lung infection and missed further training before the Kentucky Derby. He has worked well for this return, capped by a best of eleven 5 furlong breeze over the Belmont main track in 1:00 flat last Sunday. Joel Rosario will take the mount as Clement is determined to get back on track with a solid performance in the Peter Pan and move forward to the Belmont Stakes.

Yet another lightly raced late developer who could very well be ready to stamp himself a late comer to the three-year old upper echelon is Fabulous Kid. The son of Congrats has raced twice in his career, both for trainer Joseph Martin at Oaklawn. He broke his maiden in his debut in a 6 furlong sprint and then ran third in the one mile Northern Spur Stakes on Arkansas Derby Day. The colt is a homebred that is owned by Drs. Kalariki and Vilasini Jayaram who made it to the winner’s circle in the 2009 Belmont stakes with Summer Bird and are hoping for a revisit if they can move forward out of the Peter Pan. The colt has been moved from the tutelage of Martin to New York based conditioner James Toner who sent him for a useful 6 furlong breeze over the surface in 1:14 4/5 last Saturday.

The three remaining entrants appear to be a nudge below the top four but it is certainly worth noting that the Peter Pan has often seen late developing three-year olds step center stage after an understudy start to their careers.

Tapicero is priced at 20-1 on the ML based on the fact that he ships in from Calder following a MSW win in career start number five and an entry level allowance/optional 16K claiming win. This is about as big a jump as you could expect, especially racing outside of Florida for the first time, but at least the connections (trainer Mario Morales) can be optimistic based on the last two wins being by 7 plus lengths each time.

Trainer Michael Dilger, who does quite well with a limited number of starters (22% in 2014) enters Our Caravan following a 9 ¾ length win in the Calder Derby on April 4. The son of Daaher appeared overmatched in both the Holy Bull and Fountain Of Youth, losing the former by 13 lengths and the latter by 16 but his wakeup call at Calder in his last might have been more than just the drop in class to a lesser stakes race at the lesser circuit. Dilger added blinkers for the Calder Derby and in that race the colt dusted Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend. He has also been working well at Palm Meadows since the last and just might be ready to play a more serious part.

Finally we find Irish You Well, who has hit the board in 5 of his last 6 and in his last swung 4 wide and closed for the show in the Grade III Illinois Derby on April 19. On the other hand, the son of Broken Vow is also still a maiden and his best BRIS speed number of 85 is well below even the mid-range lesser speed figures of his competition. Capable local jock Irad Ortiz takes the assignment but if there would be a surprise in this year’s Peter Pan, this would be the one.

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