Strong Contender

Strong Contender

Equi-Photo/Bill Denver

Strong Contender May Fly in Peter Pan

(from Belmont Park report)
While the country's best 3-year-olds battle at Pimlico Saturday for the Preakness (gr. I), a group of talented sophomores will line up in the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park.

Those that shine could take on the likes of Barbaro, Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint next time out in the $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) on June 10.

John Oxley's Strong Contender lost all chance in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on April 15 at Keeneland – his third start – soon as the gates opened. The highly regarded Maria's Mon colt was pinched back at the start while Sinister Minister blasted to the front and never looked back. Strong Contender was a well-beaten third, 17 ¼ lengths behind the winner in his first defeat.

Strong Contender will try to find his way back to the winner's circle in the Peter Pan.

Oxley and trainer John Ward Jr. were depending on a first or second-place finish in the Blue grass in order to get Strong Contender into the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Now the lightly raced colt has had more time to mature before being tested against the best in his class.

"He got some more experience in the Blue Grass which he needed," Ward said on his way up the New York State Thruway to check on his string at Saratoga. "He's got a lot of talent, but he's only a May 15th foal."

Ward has his eyes set on the Belmont Stakes should Strong Contender put in a respectable effort Saturday.

"He's been at Belmont for two weeks now," Ward said. "We'll see how he handles the mile-and-a-half track and the wider turns. If he runs good, it would be a prep for the Belmont."

With little early speed signed on for the Peter Pan, Strong Contender should be out in front with a clean break from the gate, but Ward did not commit to saying he would definitely be on the lead.

"The horse will dictate where he runs from," Ward said. "He's got tactical speed and a long stride. I'd like to see him in a nice position where he can conserve energy."

Mike Smith has worked and galloped Strong Contender and will be aboard for the Peter Pan.

Sunriver, owned by Aaron and Marie Jones, is another formidable player in the Peter Pan. The Saint Ballado colt broke his maiden last year in his second start and has won once out of four starts at 3.

A good third behind Barbaro after early trouble in his last start, the April 1 Florida Derby (gr. I), Sunriver was also under consideration for the Kentucky Derby, but lacked the graded earnings to get in.

"We had considered him for the Preakness too, but I felt that off a seven-week layoff, he was better suited to run in the Peter Pan where there's no Barbaro, no Brother Derek and no Sweetnorthernsaint," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It seems like a better spot."

Like Ward, Pletcher is looking at the Peter Pan as a springboard to the Belmont Stakes.

"Hopefully, he'll run the way he's been training, we'll see how he comes out and then make a decision on the Belmont," said Pletcher, who will use Rafael Bejarano on Sunriver.

Neil Drysdale, a two-time winner of the Peter Pan with A. P. Indy in 1992 en route to a Belmont Stakes victory and again 10 years later with Sunday Break, sends out Really Indian, a horse who has raced only once. He won a maiden special weight at Santa Anita back in January before getting sick.

"Obviously,we're taking on a lot here, but I was very pleased with his win," Drysdale said. "We're going to see if we can squeeze some three-year-old stakes out of him. We'll see how he runs Saturday before thinking about the Belmont Stakes."

$200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II, Race 8, 4:48 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Scanlon's Song (MD), Pablo Fragoso
2. Sunriver (KY), Rafael Bejarano
3. Ice N Lemon (KY), Channing Hill
4. Hesanoldsalt (KY), Jose A. Santos
5. Lewis Michael (KY), Mark Guidry
6. Testimony (FL), Eibar Coa
7. Strong Contender (KY), Mike E. Smith
8. Really Indian (KY), Cornelio H. Velasquez
9. Harborage (KY), Michael J. Luzzi
Each assigned 116 pounds.