(edited press release)
The 139th running of the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), the third and final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, could pick up a starter or two at the conclusion of Sunday’s Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Belmont Park.
Since 1975 the Peter Pan has produced five Belmont winners, and horseplayers will find a competitive and fairly deep field in the 54th renewal of the race. Worth $200,000, the Peter Pan will be run 1 1/8 miles over Belmont Park’s main track.
Trainer Shug McGaughey is known for his patience and no nonsense horsemanship, so it is not surprising that the Hall of Famer bypassed the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with the Phipps Stable’s 3-year-old Sightseeing, who will break from post 4 under jockey Edgar Prado in the Peter Pan. The son of Pulpit seemingly punched his ticket to Kentucky with a giant second to odds-on favorite Nobiz Like Shobiz in last month’s Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct, but the thought of competing in Derby’s rough-and-tumble 20-horse field didn’t excite McGaughey.
“I think we did the right thing by letting him have the time,” said the trainer, who won the Peter Pan in 1988 with Seeking the Gold. “It’s really helped his progression and we’re looking forward to Sunday. Over the last month he’s gotten a lot more professional in what he’s been doing. His works have been good and I think he’s gotten bigger and stronger… I think what we did was the right thing.”
Sightseeing enters the Peter Pan with a 1-4-1 record from eight starts. His single victory came at Belmont Park in a maiden special weight last September.
“He’s a nice colt,” McGaughey said. “Over the winter at Gulfstream he drew bad posts and that’s a ‘chasing’ racetrack, which he doesn’t want. I think he’s sitting on a good effort.”
McGaughey has also said that he is looking at Saratoga’s $500,000 Jim Dandy (gr. II) on July 29 as Sightseeing’s target for the summer, believing that two turns and nine furlongs will be just right for the colt if he continues to develop.
Not to be overlooked in the field of seven is Pat Reynolds trainee Fearless Vision, who has never finished worse than second in five starts and recently broke through with a 9 1/2-length allowance victory at Gulfstream Park. By Vision and Verse – runner-up to Lemon Drop Kid in the 1999 Belmont Stakes – Fearless Vision is making his first start outside Gulfstream Park Sunday, and Reynolds is expecting good things.
“He’s a very consistent horse that’s shown a lot from his first work,” Reynolds said. “He’s got a lot of natural talent. Earlier in the winter he was a little green, but he’s gone through a growing process.”
Although Fearless Vision has only lost three times, two of his defeats came at the hands of Peter Pan rivals Soaring By and Vitruvius.
“They’re two nice colts, but I think greenness cost (Fearless Vision) the win the day we ran against Vitruvius,” Reynolds said. “He was acting like he was in a herd and his instincts just weren’t in the right direction. He drew up to Vitruvius and instead of going by, he just wanted to lean against him.”
Reynolds has since removed the blinkers from Fearless Vision, and the colt has responded with two strong victories.
“It wasn’t a great bunch behind him, but he did something a lot of these three-year-olds haven’t done: reach the 100 Beyer Speed Figure plateau,” said Reynolds of the April 21 win. “That race was long enough ago and he did it handily enough where it wasn’t a draining effort. I only gave him a couple of slow breezes when we got back from Florida because he was so fit.”
Fearless Vision has drawn post 6 with jockey Garrett Gomez.
“We’re testing him for quality and class,” Reynolds said.
The Calder-based Hal’s My Hope, breaking from post 2 under Cornelio Velasquez, came to hand nicely over the winter at Gulfstream Park for trainer Barry Rose. On Feb. 3 he scored the second win of his career in a Gulfstream allowance race at odds of 108-1. Since then, the son of Halo’s Image has handled himself quite well in stakes company, finishing a close-up fifth behind Scat Daddy in the Fountain of Youth at 117-1 and winning Calder’s April 28 Unbridled Stakes by 12 lengths. Rose is expecting to return to Florida with the Peter Pan trophy.
“We’ve very confident,” Rose said. “Honestly, I’d be surprised if anyone beats us.”
Hal’s My Hope, who has won races on the lead and from slightly off of it, arrived in New York a few days ago, and the cool temperatures seem to have perked him up.
“He’s enjoying the cold weather in New York,” Rose said. “He’s galloped on the main track and the training track and he’s handled both of them great. It took this colt a little time to develop because he had a couple of little problems early on, but now he’s doing super.”
Vitruvius, a son of E Dubai owned by Centennial Farms, is unbeaten in two starts and might go off as the slight favorite for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Vitruvius broke his maiden determinedly this February, defeating Fearless Vision by a neck, then returned to take an Aqueduct allowance impressively in April. Vitruvius, who has a monstrous turn of foot around the quarter pole, is a half brother to Grade 2 winner Corinthian, who is also trained by Jerkens.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has won two of the last three runnings of the Peter Pan, and Sunday he’ll send out Soaring By, a Deputy Minister colt who will attempt to bounce back after a seventh-place finish in last month’s Coolmore Lexington (gr. II) at Keeneland.
Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II, Race 8, Approximate post 4:45 p.m.), $200,000 for Three Year Olds, 1 1/8 miles
PP. HORSE - TRAINER - JOCKEY, WEIGHT
1. Sir Whimsey - Mike Miceli - Eibar Coa, 116
2. Hal’s My Hope - Barry Rose - Cornelio Velasquez, 120
3. Prom Shoes - William Fires - John Velazquez, 116
4. Sightseeing - Shug McGaughey - Edgar Prado, 116
5. Vitruvius - Jimmy Jerkens - Kent Desormeaux, 116
6. Fearless Vision - Pat Reynolds - Garrett Gomez, 116
7. Soaring By - Todd Pletcher - Mike Luzzi, 116