Yes, believe it or not, there are other 3-year-olds who inhabit the wild and wacky world of Smarty Jones, and several of them will be using Saturday's $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) as a dress rehearsal for their big showdown with America's wonder horse in the June 5 Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Although a field of 10 was drawn for the 1 1/8-mile race, there are two that have the stakes credentials and the pedigree to have a say in the mile and a half Belmont. They are Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Friends Lake and Wood Memorial (gr. I) runner-up Master David. However, the last either saw of Smarty Jones, he was a faint figure disappearing into the murk of Churchill Downs on May 1.
But the Peter Pan is a worthy prize in itself, and has served as a successful Belmont prep on numerous occasions. And there will be plenty of competition. Because of the allowance conditions of the race, Master David gets a big break in the weights, and will be pulling eight pounds from Friends Lake (123-115).
Friends Lake, captured the Florida Derby, defeating Value Plus and The Cliff's Edge, then went straight into the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) off a seven-week layoff. He never ran a lick on the sloppy track, finishing 15th, almost 37 lengths behind Smarty Jones. The John Kimmel-trained son of A.P. Indy
once again will be ridden by Richard Migliore.
"I was so disappointed with what he got out of the Derby," Kimmel said. "He didn't get any conditioning out of the race at all, so I had to do something. Maybe if I had another race into him before the Derby, we wouldn't be running in here. Hopefully, he'll run well enough and come out of it good enough where I can run him back in two weeks. I'd really like to see him finish up well and show he belongs."
Kimmel said Friends Lake did so little running in the Derby he was cooled out by the time he got back to the barn. "That was a real bummer," he said. "The horse was dead-on ready to run. The weather disintegrated and the track fell apart. All the schooling paid off; he was great in the paddock and gate. But he was always in a position where he was in tight or getting dirt in his face and after a while, that will discourage any animal."
Master David, winner of the listed Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, just held off Eddington to get second in the Wood Memorial, while coming off an eight-week layoff. He was expected to move forward in the Derby, but could do no better than 12th, beaten 18 1/2 lengths. Regular rider, Alex Solis, will be aboard for trainer Bobby Frankel, who won the Belmont last year with Empire Maker.
"I don't know if I was disappointed or not in the Derby," said Frankel. "I didn't really go in there thinking I was going to win it. I was just hoping for the best. I think this is going to be a good race for him. I really think he's going to like this track. This horse seems to run better on the straight than he does on the turn. I don't know what I have to see for him to run in the Belmont. I just have to get the right feeling."
After these two, there is no one who looks to be a serious Belmont Stakes horse, but there are several talented colts who are more than capable of winning the Peter Pan, which could induce their connections to take a shot against Smarty Jones.
The most accomplished of these looks to be Swingforthefences, even though the son of Boston Harbor has yet to win a stakes. He finished a close third to Limehouse in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), then was fourth, beaten only two lengths in the Wood Memorial by the victorious Tapit. He managed to get his nose right up even with the leaders at the eighth pole, but couldn't sustain his run. Shaun Bridgmohan will up with 115 pounds.
The horse to beat here could very well be Purge, who won his first two starts sprinting as if he could be a star in the making. A second to Smarty Jones in the Rebel Stakes in his first two-turn race did nothing to diminish his stature. He actually was the 2-1 favorite, and led from the start until Smarty charged past him inside the three-sixteenths pole. He was expected to take a big step forward in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) with the Rebel under his belt, but this time Smarty blew right on by him on the far turn, and he retreated to fifth, beaten 7 1/4 lengths. He has the speed; he should be more rateable this time; and he could be a lot tougher now with six weeks off. He's coming into the Peter Pan off a pair of easy five-furlongs breezes for trainer Todd Pletcher and also gets in with 115. John Velazquez will ride.
Bob Baffert has an interesting starter in Consecrate, who could come back in the Belmont with a big effort on Saturday. The son of Silver Charm has had more alterations than a new suit. First, he was gelded earlier in the year, and responded with solid in-the-money efforts in the San Vicente (gr. II), San Rafael (gr. II), and WinStar Derby. After finishing ninth, beaten 24 1/2 lengths in the Wood Memorial, he underwent surgery to correct an entrapped epiglottis. He has thrown in three solid works since, including a :59 3/5 drill at Belmont on May 17, and is the unknown factor in here. He'll be ridden for the first time by Jerry Bailey.
Sinister G, upset winner of the Lane's End Stakes (gr. II), will break from the rail in his first start since withdrawing from the Kentucky Derby due to a cough. With his connections intending to run him at Churchill off a 10th-place finish in the Wood Memorial, it certainly wouldn't come as a surprise to see him show up in the Belmont if he should run well in the Peter Pan, despite his front-running style and questionable pedigree for a mile and a half. Like Friends Lake, he carries co-topweight of 123 pounds.
Pies Prospect has shown flashes of ability, and is coming off an allowance victory for Nick Zito. He'll have Javier Castellano aboard.
The field for Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan:
PP.HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY WGT.
1--Sinister G/ John Toscano Jr./ Paul Toscano/ 123
2--Pies Prospect/ Nick Zito/ Javier Castellano/ 115
3--Zakocity/ Pat Reynolds/ Jose Santos/ 115
4--Master David/ Bobby Frankel/ Alex Solis/ 115
5--Friends Lake John Kimmel/ Richard Migliore/ 123
6--Swingforthefences/ Richard Violette/ Shaun Bridgmohan/ 115
7--Wild Wadi/ Steve Young/ Mike Luzzi/ 115
8--Consecrate/ Bob Baffert/ Jerry Bailey/ 115
9--Intimidator/ Randy Schulhofer/ Edgar Prado/ 115
10-Purge/ Todd Pletcher/ John Velazquez/ 115