Ten years ago, trainer Neil Drysdale came to New York with A.P. Indy. A.P. Indy missed the first two legs of the Triple Crown--the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (both gr. I)--because of a quarter-crack in his left-front hoof, but Drysdale's patience and the horse's natural talents were rewarded. A.P. Indy, the eventual Horse of the Year, recorded victories in the Peter Pan and the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (gr. I). A few years later, Drysdale was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Like A.P. Indy but for a different reason, Sunday Break skipped this year's Derby and Preakness. Saturday, he will make his first start for Drysdale since finishing third in Aqueduct's Wood Memorial (gr. I) on April 13, when he goes to post in the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at nine furlongs.
While A.P. Indy missed the first two legs of the Triple Crown because of injury, Sunday Break was excluded from the Derby because he did not have enough graded stakes earnings to crack the top 20 entrants. The 3-year-old son of Forty Niner could have run in the Preakness, but Drysdale opted for the path A.P. Indy blazed a decade ago. The move would give Sunday Break a race over the track before the Belmont Stakes--one advantage that War Emblem will not have when he tries to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner on June 8.
"If you're not running in the Kentucky Derby, why is it necessary to run in the Preakness?" Drysdale said. "I think not running in the Derby or Preakness will help him because he's a late developer. Time for any 3-year-olds at this time of year is going to help."
Sunday Break, owned by Koji Maeda, had a three-race win streak snapped in the Wood when he finished one-half length behind Buddha and Medaglia d'Oro. Despite the loss, it was a much-improved effort over a late March allowance in which the colt sat a perfect trip behind lesser competition, made the lead in the stretch but ducked in twice, nearly costing him the win.
A trip to the starting gate for the Belmont is not a certainty for Sunday Break, but a solid effort Saturday will likely land him a place in the oldest and longest leg of the Visa Triple Crown.
"The horse has been training very well and I'm pleased with him," Drysdale said. "He likes the track here. We'll see how he does in the Peter Pan then decide on the Belmont Stakes."
Sunday Break figures to be a heavy favorite breaking from post two with regular rider Gary Stevens aboard.
Withers winner Fast Decision is likely to be the second choice in the Peter Pan, coupled in the wagering with Fireballer. Both horses are owned by Peter Karches, vice chairman of the New York Racing Association board of Trustees.
Fast Decision, who breaks from the rail with Jose Santos, burst onto the scene as one of the top sophomores with a mild upset in the Withers. The son of Gulch won consecutive seven-furlong races at Gulfstream Park over the winter.
Fireballer comes into the Peter Pan much like Fast Decision went into the Withers. After failing in his debut, Fireballer has won two straight.
"If it were up to me, I'd like to run both of them, but I understand we can split them and go in two different races," trainer Christophe Clement said. "Fast Decision is a nice horse; he came out of the Withers in good order and he's breezing well. He always acted and trained like a good horse and he keeps improving."
Fellow NYRA board of Trustees vice chairman Joseph Shields Jr. will send out Puzzlement in the Peter Pan. The son of Pine Bluff has won his last two starts, the most recent victory a half-length win over rival Essayons. The late runner was defeated in his first two starts, the victim of a poor break in his debut.
"I thought he ran well both times he lost," Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens said. "He likes to close, but I don't think he needs a fast pace in front of him. He moves when he's asked. If he closes strongly, he could run back in the Belmont Stakes."
Jean-Luc Samyn has been getting on Puzzlement every morning and will ride the colt from post eight.
Brushwood Stable's Essayons was the 4-5 favorite when he was defeated by Puzzlement. The son of Deputy Minister only has one win, a maiden special weight romp over a questionable field at Aqueduct.
Heir D'Twine, owned by Joseph Graffeo, might have his chances upgraded after Magic Weisner ran a close second to War Emblem in the Preakness. In the colt's last start, Heir D' Twine was only beaten one-half length by Magic Weisner in the Federico Tesio.
Not often do you see Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey accept a mount on a maiden in a stakes race, but for Godolphin Racing, anything is possible. Their Ibn Al Haitham will make his first start since finishing third to Essence of Dubai in the UAE Derby March 23. The Zafonic colt was second to Essence of Dubai last year in Santa Anita's Norfolk.
Gatsas Stable's Deputy Dash makes his stakes debut in the Peter Pan. He just finished a solid second to the promising Yankee Gentleman in a May 12 allowance.
The field for Saturday's $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II)
PP Horse Trainer Jockey
1a Fast Decision Christophe Clement Jose Santos
2 Sunday Break Neil Drysdale Gary Stevens
3 Deputy Dash John Terranova Mike Luzzi
4 Essayons John Kimmel Richard Migliore
5 Ibn Al Haitham Saeed bin Suroor Jerry Bailey
6a Fireballer Christophe Clement Edgar Prado
7 Heir D' Twine Stephen DiMauro John Velazquez
8 Puzzlement H. Allen Jerkens Jean-Luc Samyn