Casino Drive, an easy winner in the Peter Pan (gr. II)

Casino Drive, an easy winner in the Peter Pan (gr. II)

Coglianese Photos

Casino Drive Spectacular in Peter Pan

The Japanese invader will be headed to the Belmont Stakes June 7.

Should Big Brown go on to take the May 17 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), for the fourth time this decade Thoroughbred racing fans will be buzzing over a possibility of the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years.

On May 10 at Belmont Park, North America got its first look at the colt who could have the best chance at spoiling Big Brown’s entry into racing immortality, as Japanese invader Casino Drive blew away eight challengers to win the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) in sensational fashion.

Under a patient ride from Kent Desormeaux, Casino Drive stalked the pace, split horses coming out of the final turn, and drew clear in the stretch to win by 5 3/4 commanding lengths. The son of Mineshaft completed the 1 1/8 miles on the dirt in 1:47.87.

Ironically, if Casino Drive does enter the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), he will likely need a new rider. Assuming Big Brown wins the Preakness, Desormeaux will undoubtedly be aboard the son of Boundary, who won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 3.

Casino Drive was making only his second lifetime start in the Peter Pan. He made his racing debut Feb. 23 in Japan at Kyoto, romping to an 11 1/2-length score in a nine-furlong event. The chestnut colt is owned by Japanese business mogul Hidetoshi Yamamoto, and is trained by Kazuo Fujisawa.

Casino Drive, who was bred in Kentucky by Shell Bloodstock, is out of the Deputy Minister mare Better Than Honour. He will have history on his side in the Belmont, as Better Than Honour produced the last two winners of the Classic--Jazil and Rags to Riches. A.P. Indy, 1992 Horse of the Year and the sire of Mineshaft , also won the Belmont.

Yamamoto purchased Casino Drive for $950,000 at the Keeneland 2006 September yearling sale.

In the Peter Pan, Casino Drive settled into third through the backstretch after breaking slowly, content to let Mint Lane set the early pace. Casino Drive’s stablemate, Spark Candle, pressed the leader, setting the table perfectly for the eventual winner.

Mint Lane posted fractions of :23.08, :46.31, and 1:10.47 for six furlongs. Ridden by Eibar Coa, the son of Maria's Mon was still going well as he came out of the turn, while Golden Spikes also moved into contention. But Desormeaux asked Casino Drive for more along the turn, and the talented colt split the two leaders with ease before they straightened away.

Casino Drive took over before the 3/16 pole and drew clear with every stride.

“I certainly understand how Jazil and Rags to Riches won the Belmont,” Desormeaux said. “Yeah, he can run a lot. It’s going to be fun. He’s a phenomenal talent, and we’ve got our hands full with this one. It’s going to be ultimately exciting for all of the fans. He’s got that stride.”

Fujisawa, who commented through a translator, said: ““He ran very good, in spite of it being so long since his last start. I think he will be getting better from now on, and I look forward to his next race--the Belmont Stakes.”

Mint Lane held on for second at odds of 18-1, a half-length in front of Ready’s Echo, who closed well from last. Going off as the 7-5 favorite, Casino Drive paid $4.50, $3.90, and $2.80. The exacta (1-3) was worth $66.50, while the trifecta (1-3-6) returned $225.50.

Golden Spikes finished fourth, followed by Cosmic, Spark Candle, Tomcito, Deputyville, and Fast Talking.

(Chart, Equibase)