Saturday's Grade 3, $350,000 Peter Pan at Belmont Park has long been a historic race for 3-year-olds on the New York racing circuit. In addition to honoring a champion, the 1 1/8-mile race has served as a stepping stone towards a start in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, which will have its 150th running on June 9.
Carded as Race 10, the 64th running of the Peter Pan is one of five stakes, including four graded, on a stacked Man o' War Day card that is highlighted by the Grade 1, $700,000 Man o' War.
Gary Broad's Core Beliefs headlines a field of eight and will make his fifth career start after finishing third behind eventual Kentucky Derby winner Justify in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 7. That effort marked the Quality Road colt's second try at routing around two turns after he beat four others to break his maiden almost a month earlier. The Peter Eurton-trained Kentucky-bred offered two third-place finishes in sprints while being sent postward with blinkers.
“He's doing very well.” Eurton said. “We're very proud of him, no complaints. We were very pleased with his last race, as it was his first race against winners, and now especially against the cailber of horse we now know we were running against in Justify. I mean he was trying to win, it wasn't like he was really far back, he was there at the three-quarters, and was running throughout, but we were real pleased with him and how he ran.”
Although Eurton and his connections said he doesn't want to get too far ahead of the next start, there is a plan for the next six weeks.
“The ideal would be for him to win, come out of it liking the track and then go on to the Belmont, but we're going to take it one race at a time for now,” he said.
Jockey Tyler Baze, who got the call aboard Core Beliefs for the first time in the Santa Anita Derby, will make the trip to New York and will try to work out a trip from the rail.
Federico Tesio winner Diamond King enters off of that three-quarter length victory at Laurel Park on April 21, and looks to add his third stakes win, which began with his ground saving 1 ½ length score in the Heft on December 30 also at Laurel Park.
By Quality Road, Diamond King steadied for a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Swale at Gulfstream on February 3 in between both victories, his second graded race start since his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Keeneland. That start, his third after winning his first pair, was foiled when he clipped heels and lost rider Frankie Pennington while heading into the first turn at Churchill Downs.
The winner of four races from six starts for trainer John Servis gets Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano in the irons and drew post 5.
Shortleaf Stable's High North shipped up from Churchill Downs this week for trainer Brad Cox, and looks to return to graded stakes competition after starting in three Grade 2 races, the Kentucky Jockey Club, Risen Star and Rebel in which he ran fourth, fifth and seventh respectively.
The son of Midnight Lute was given a bit of class relief and outfitted with blinkers in the Northern Spur Stakes on April 14, his last start, and he responded with a 2 ½ length victory. It was his second victory since he broke his maiden in his third career start at Keeneland. The lone runner with a race over Belmont's main track, High North was second to Avery Island in his second career start on September 30. His stakes victory and equipment change could be the confidence boost the colt needed.
“He's doing real well,” Cox said. “I think the blinkers helped, and I think because he was a little closer to the pace than his previous two races, I think it worked out well for him.”
Florent Geroux, who debuted aboard High North in the Northern Spur, will make the trip to secure the mount and will break from post 6.
A debut in blinkers, and the benefit of Belmont Park's 1 1/8-mile chute will play a role in reversal for Lothenbach Stables' Gotta Go, who enters off an 11th place performance in the Grade 2 Blue Grass on April 7 at Keeneland. The Shanghai Bobby colt turned in a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 3 at Gulfstream which followed a second place performance in the Grade 3 Swale at Gulfstream on February 3, the first race of his sophomore year.
Trainer Ian Wilkes hopes the Peter Pan's one turn could help his Kentucky-bred get back on track.
“He's doing well and the plan at the moment is to go to New York,” Wilkes said. “He looks like he's improving. If he wasn't, we wouldn't come. I'm going to put blinkers on him and go back to one turn. I'm happy with the way he's going.
“His last couple of races have been subpar and it might be due to the fact it was two turns; that's what I'm going to find out,” he added. “I'll put some blinkers on him and make him a little more focused.”
Gotta Go ended his 2-year-old year with a 13th-place finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Keeneland, the colt's first graded stakes start after he captured the Street Sense by a head at Churchill Downs on October 29.
Gotta Go will be joined by regular rider Chris Landeros and will break from post 7.
Bringing the most race experience to the group will be Arindel's colt Transistor who will make his Belmont Park debut after 12 starts in Florida at Gulfstream and Gulfstram Park West for trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
The Forty Tales colt was fourth in his debut then followed with two eighth-place finishes on grass before he started at Gulfstream Park West, where he returned to dirt and responded with a strong second, short by a head at the wire. The Florida-bred added another runner-up finish before trying two turns where he offered another second and a third place finish seemingly benefitting from the added distance.
Transistor broke his maiden by a neck at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream on February 8, but was cut back to seven furlongs where he came with a late kick to finish in an allowance start and then closed for third in the Roar on April 21, and has been working well towards Saturday.
“So far, so good,” Rodriguez said. “We're taking a big chance, but we want to take the chance against these. He looks like he wants to go that long, he likes distance, and he's a 3-year-old that's getting better and better, so let's hope he keeps going.”
Transistor will be ridden by Luis Saez and will break from outside post 8.
Just Whistle will carry the colors for owner Helen K. Groves in the Peter Pan, making just his fourth career start for trainer Michael Matz. Fifth in his debut at Delaware Park on August 9, the Pioneerof the Nile colt floated a bit in the stretch at Gulfstream before finishing a half-length behind eventual Kentucky Derby starter Hofburg in his second start. The pace-stalking type returned break his maiden as the favorite at Keeneland, and now will face tougher with a chance to go forward.
“He's lightly raced, but he's a real nice horse,” Matz said. “We'll see what happens. We're taking a really big step up to a bigger stage right here, and if it came up tough we'd probably skip and look elsewhere. We're looking to ship up Saturday morning and run.”
Just Whistle will be ridden by Joel Rosario, aboard for the second straight time and will break from post 3.
Blended Citizen, the also-eligible entrant in the Kentucky Derby, will instead make his 10th career start in the Peter Pan after failing to draw in to the Classic last Saturday. He is the lone starter in the race to carry a graded stakes victory after he debuted with blinkers and prevailed by a neck in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 17 at Turfway Park which led to his fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Blue Grass.
The colt by Proud Citizen ships in from California for trainer Doug O'Neill and will break from post 4 under jockey Kyle Frey.
Jackpot Ranch's Zing Zang will make his eighth career start for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen following a ninth-place finish in the Blue Grass after he faced the task of drawing the rail amid the field of 14 that day. A rough trip in the Grade 2 Rebel for sixth followed his fifth place result in the Grade 3 Southwest in the mud at Oaklawn Park on February 19.
The colt by Tapit stepped up against tougher in the Grade 3 Lecomte and finished fourth to begin his 3-year-old campaign after ending with his maiden win in his third start.
The late-running Zing Zang will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. and will run from post 2.
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