Sunday Break, right, defeats Puzzlement in the Peter Pan Stakes.

Sunday Break, right, defeats Puzzlement in the Peter Pan Stakes.

NYRA/Adam Coglianese

Belmont Park Race Report (Cont.)

Despite the presence of several up-and-comers in the Peter Pan, the fans made Sunday Break, owned by Koji Maeda, the overhelming 1-2 favorite. Following his game third-place finish in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), he failed to make the starting field for the Kentucky Derby due to insufficient graded earnings. Stevens' close relationship with Prince Ahmed Salman would have made him the logical candidate to land the mount on War Emblem following the colt's purchase. However, by the time it became apparent Sunday Break was not going to get into the Derby, the mount had been given to Espinoza, who is the regular rider of Salman's brilliant colt Officer. Stevens wound up riding last year's 2-year-old champ Johannesburg in the Derby, but the colt was not ready for such an arduous task, and finished a non-threatening eighth.

Drysdale decided to pass the Preakness (gr. I) with Sunday Break and take the same route he did with 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy, who was scratched from the Derby the morning of the race with a quarter crack. Drysdale patched up the foot, then saddled A.P. Indy to an impressive score in the Peter Pan. Now, 10 years later, he was back in the 1 1/8-mile race, hoping for a repeat victory that would again serve as a successful prep for the Belmont.

With Essayons on the lead and laying down testing fractions of :45.92 and 1:09.81, Stevens was content to keep Sunday Break back in fourth, about three lengths off the pace. Once he found room, Stevens steered his colt to the outside and cruised up to take the lead turning for home. From the quarter pole to the eighth pole, Stevens merely sat on Sunday Break and never asked him to run, despite the ominous presence on his outside of 11-1 Puzzlement, who had charged up from last in the seven-horse field. As Puzzlement inched closer inside the eighth pole, Stevens finally stepped on the gas and began waving his stick at Sunday Break, who quickly bounded clear by 11?2 lengths. Puzzlement kept coming and stayed with Sunday Break every inch of the way, but fell a length short at the wire. It was another two lengths back to 51-1 Deputy Dash. With a final eighth in just under :13, Sunday Break covered the distance in a solid 1:48.10.

"Gary only started to ride him inside the final furlong," Drysdale said. "If he is going to come back and run in the Belmont, he needed to settle well here. He is a very tractable horse. I think he got what he needed out of this race. He is stronger behind now than he was in the Wood Memorial. He is quite a light-framed horse. When Gary dismounted, he said he thought he felt much stronger."

It didn't take Stevens long to start having visions of thwarting War Emblem's Triple Crown attempt. "If we make it to the Belmont, I hope I'm the spoiler," he said. "If I can't win, I would love to see a Triple Crown winner. I can tell you that this didn't take much out of him. The plan all along was getting him to the Belmont Stakes. He was running the final furlong. The time in between races has really helped him."

As for Puzzlement, Jerkens was simple and direct as usual. "If my horse pulls up good and is training good, we'll probably try the Belmont," he said. "You don't get too many shots like this and stranger things have happened."

Just ask Secretariat, Kelso, Buckpasser, Forego, Skip Away, and the numerous other giants Jerkens has slain over the years.

Shibboleth's Jaipur
Bobby Frankel's experiment, putting Juddmonte Farms' Shibboleth on the dirt in the Carter Handicap (gr. I), failed miserably, as the son of Danzig finished last in the 10-horse field after stumbling at the start. "That's OK, I'll just put him back on the grass," Frankel said after the race.

Shibboleth relished his return to the turf, scoring a wire-to-wire victory in the seven-furlong Jaipur Handicap (gr. IIIT) on May 27. Sent off as the 7-5 second choice with Jerry Bailey aboard, the 5-year-old cut out blistering fractions of :44.70 and 1:08.10, then had no trouble holding off the 6-5 California invader Malabar Gold by two lengths. His time of 1:20.08 was a tick off the course record. Longshot Cozzy Corner rallied for third.

"The plan was actually to stalk," Bailey said. "He broke so well today. We made the lead comfortably and I didn't want to fight him. No one wanted the lead, so I took it. He was comfortable and ran a big race."

Chart, Equibase)