Peter Pan Preview - The First 5 Days at Belmont

WITH HOPEFUL EYE ON THE BELMONT STAKES SEVEN SET TO "PREP" IN SATURDAY'S PETER PAN STAKES

On Saturday 7 colts have been entered in the 1 1/8 mile Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park.

Click here to get Jim's picks in Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes, his Belmont Trifecta of the week, and Monmouth Opening Day Duo

Traditionally the Peter Pan has been thought of as a prep race for the Grade I Belmont Stakes, to be run 4 weeks from now but based on how few three-year olds have moved from this race into Belmont Stakes success* it is germane to just look at this race as a separate entity given that most of the connections of recent Peter Pan runners, as is the case this year, need this race more as an indicator of where their horses move from here regarding the developing 3-year old hierarchy than they are using it as a prep for the Belmont Stakes.

Case in point is the Todd Pletcher trained Commissioner. The colt appeared to be bearing up for the big prep races early on in 2014 when he won his 3-year old debut convincingly in an important 9 furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park on January 3. While still well-regarded, Commissioner has nonetheless failed to duplicate that form in three subsequent graded stakes races.

The son of A.P. Indy followed that promising allowance win with a no-show, no-excuse performance in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes, getting beat 10 lengths by Wildcat Red, who on comparative standards was not up to matching talent with the best in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Next came a flat third behind Chitu, another not up to Kentucky Derby standards and Midnight Hawk, who was beaten at 2-5 in the Illinois Derby in the Sunland Derby at Sunland park before attempting to regroup in the Arkansas Derby and staggering home 6th, beaten 11 lengths.

Pletcher had little to say about either the Fountain Of Youth or Sunland Derby but made claims that Commissioner acted up so much in the paddock at Oaklawn that he was finished before he even got to the track.

Interestingly the colt has been installed as the 5-2 second choice. Whether that represents a true gauge on the colt's yet to be shown talent or the speculation that the public will jump on the Pletcher/Castellano connection remains to be seen. If history counts for anything at least the connections can look to Commissioner's sire A.P. Indy and hope for a repeat of what that one did when he won both the Peter Pan and the Belmont Stakes in 1992. On form the colt will need a lot more than lineage, however.

As is often the case, Pletcher has more than one uncoupled entrant in a stakes race and his Tapit colt Matterhorn will leave from the rail under John Velazquez.

The lightly raced colt will be making just his fourth career start after running third in an entry level allowance race at Aqueduct on March 28. Listed at 6-1 on the ML the colt will need to find more early speed if he wants to remain in contention in this short field, especially in a race that is, even at 9 furlongs, run around one turn at Belmont. If you are looking for the glass half full approach it is worth noting that the colt was a 625K yearling purchase and the allowance race was against a decent group of older horses. If he has an upside it might come on Saturday.

Installed as the 2-1 ML favorite is the Christophe Clement trained Tonalist. Another lightly raced colt, the son of Tapit appeared on his way earlier this year when he ran a bang-up second behind the well-regarded Florida Derby winner Constitution, who himself was forced to be taken off the Derby trail, in one of those key made for top 3-year old allowance races they card each winter at Gulfstream Park. But soon after Tonalist contracted a lung infection and missed further training before the Kentucky Derby. He has worked well for this return, capped by a best of eleven 5 furlong breeze over the Belmont main track in 1:00 flat last Sunday. Joel Rosario will take the mount as Clement is determined to get back on track with a solid performance in the Peter Pan and move forward to the Belmont Stakes.

Yet another lightly raced late developer who could very well be ready to stamp himself a late comer to the three-year old upper echelon is Fabulous Kid. The son of Congrats has raced twice in his career, both for trainer Joseph Martin at Oaklawn. He broke his maiden in his debut in a 6 furlong sprint and then ran third in the one mile Northern Spur Stakes on Arkansas Derby Day. The colt is a homebred that is owned by Drs. Kalariki and Vilasini Jayaram who made it to the winner's circle in the 2009 Belmont stakes with Summer Bird and are hoping for a revisit if they can move forward out of the Peter Pan. The colt has been moved from the tutelage of Martin to New York based conditioner James Toner who sent him for a useful 6 furlong breeze over the surface in 1:14 4/5 last Saturday.

The three remaining entrants appear to be a nudge below the top four but it is certainly worth noting that the Peter Pan has often seen late developing three-year olds step center stage after an understudy start to their careers.

Tapicero is priced at 20-1 on the ML based on the fact that he ships in from Calder following a MSW win in career start number five and an entry level allowance/optional 16K claiming win. This is about as big a jump as you could expect, especially racing outside of Florida for the first time, but at least the connections (trainer Mario Morales) can be optimistic based on the last two wins being by 7 plus lengths each time.

Trainer Michael Dilger, who does quite well with a limited number of starters (22% in 2014) enters Our Caravan following a 9 ¾ length win in the Calder Derby on April 4. The son of Daaher appeared overmatched in both the Holy Bull and Fountain Of Youth, losing the former by 13 lengths and the latter by 16 but his wakeup call at Calder in his last might have been more than just the drop in class to a lesser stakes race at the lesser circuit. Dilger added blinkers for the Calder Derby and in that race the colt dusted Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend. He has also been working well at Palm Meadows since the last and just might be ready to play a more serious part.

Finally we find Irish You Well, who has hit the board in 5 of his last 6 and in his last swung 4 wide and closed for the show in the Grade III Illinois Derby on April 19. On the other hand, the son of Broken Vow is also still a maiden and his best BRIS speed number of 85 is well below even the mid-range lesser speed figures of his competition. Capable local jock Irad Ortiz takes the assignment but if there would be a surprise in this year's Peter Pan, this would be the one.

FIRST 5 DAYS AT BELMONT…SPEED AND STALKERS RULE MAIN TRACK:

Useful Trend Or Too Small A Sample?

Ask any regular horseplayer what are the five most aggravating occurrences that afflict their daily betting choices and I guarantee that whether first or fifth on the list will be something along the lines of…”I always seem to catch on to a general trend or bias just as it begins to disappear.”

Sound familiar?

Nonetheless, any serious handicapper/bettor who is looking for a more than fair share of winners must of necessity search for those trends or biases. So with that in mind I took a look at the first five days of racing at Belmont Park, from Thursday, May 1 through Wednesday, May 7.

Although they had also completed racing on Thursday, May 8 before this article was completed I chose to stay away from that day because overnight and morning rains left the track a quagmire and all turf races were moved to the sloppy main track. By the time you internalize what is collected below the main track and turf courses will be back in useful operating order in which case what is below will be more relevant.  

There were 48 races run over the aforementioned 5 days. 37 races were run on the main track and 11 combined on the two turf courses. It is also worth reminding readers and Belmont bettors that races that are run up to a mile and an eighth are run around one turn (out of the chute) on the main track. This is important to keep in mind because that meant that 36 of the 37 main track races were one turn affairs.

EARLY RESULTS FAVOR SPEED, PRESSERS AND STALKERS ON MAIN TRACK

In order to find any useful trends or biases during the early days of the meet I broke down the performances of the winners by distance, what position they were in at three “calls” during the race (first call, call prior to the stretch and in the stretch) and how many lengths off the pace they were at each of the three calls. Those horse that went wire-to-wire are simply designated as W-W rather than repeat 1st three times.

For example, in Race 4 on May 1 Jackson N Lorimer raced as follows:

3rd(3 ½)…2nd(2)…2nd(2)

Taking Jackson N Lorimer and each of the other 36 main track winners into account you will see each of those three calls followed by the range of distance off the pace. In those non-Wire-To-Wire winning races where the winner assumed the lead at the second or stretch call (signified by lead) I followed that point of call listing with the number of runners that had the lead within the noted range. (See Note “A” below.)

Let’s take a look at the 37 dirt races that were run the first five days of the meet.
6 FURLONGS—(12 Races)
4 Wire-To-Wire
8 Other Winners…First (3 ¾-2)…Second (2-L…”A”—2 Had Lead)…Stretch (1 ½-L—4 Had Lead)
6 ½ FURLONGS—(5 Races)
2 Wire-To-Wire
3 Other Winners…First (5-Hd)…Second (3-L—1 Had Lead)…Stretch (2 ½-L—2 had Lead)
7 FURLONGS—(2 Races)
1 Wire-To-Wire
1 Other Winner…First (6 ½)…Second (1 ¾)…Stretch (2)
1 MILE—(8 Races)
3 Wire-To-Wire
5 Other Winners…First (1 ½-1)…Second (1/2-L—3 Had Lead)…Stretch (1 ½-L—3 Had Lead)
1 1/16th MILES—(8 Races)
2 Wire-To-Wire
6 Other Winners…First (5-Hd)…Second (2 ½-Hd)…Stretch (2-L—3 Had Lead)
1 1/8 MILES—(1 Race)
First (1/2)…Second (L)…Stretch (L)
1 1/4 MILES
Wire-To-Wire

SUMMARY NOTES:

  • While the range of First Calls above shows 5-Hd at 6 ½ furlongs, 6 ½ at 7 furlongs and 5-Hd at a mile and a sixteenth those three biggest numbers came in one individual race at each distance. In all the other 34 races the inner went either wire-to-wire or was no further back than 3 ¾ lengths at first call, 3 lengths at second call or 2 lengths in the stretch.
  • The early results would indicate that as the track gets back to good and then fast this weekend and you begin breaking down your races you would probably be well-advised to demand a lot of positive attributes from any horse that runs on the main track and is not a wire-to-wire candidate, a solid presser based on previously indicated pace figures or at least a close up stalker.
  • Interestingly, when the previously scheduled turf races were taken off the grass and run on the fast main track on the opening two days of the meet even those races, which featured Main Track Only entrants and some turf horse that stayed in, the above tendencies did not deviate in those races.

                                 

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SMALL TURF SAMPLE SHOWS EVEN PLAYING FIELD

Using the same standards for the 11 Turf races that were run during the same period there is no set trend or bias that would be deemed useful. The number of turf races was reduced, as mentioned above, by pre-opening day conditions that necessitated the first two days of scheduled grass races to be moved to the main track.
Here is the summary of the 11 Turf races run during the period.
6 FURLONGS—(2 Races)
1 Wire-To-Wire
1 Other Winner…First (5)…Second (2 ½ )…Stretch (Hd)
7 FURLONGS—(2 Races)
No Wire-To-Wire Winners
First (7-1)…Second (7-1/2 )…Stretch (2 ½-L)
1 MILE—(3 Races)
No Wire-To-Wire Winners
First (9- 1 ½)…Second (5-L—1 Had Lead)…Stretch (1-L—2 Had Lead)
1 1/16th MILES—(2 Races)
1 Wire-To-Wire
1 Other Winner…First (3)…Second (3)…Stretch (1 ¾)
1 1/8 MILES—(1 Race)
Wire-To-Wire
1 1/4 MILES—(1 Race)
First (2)…Second (2)…Stretch (1 ½)

SUMMARY RESULTS:

Obviously it is difficult to glean anything from a small overall sample and smaller number of races at each different distance. But this difficulty is also showcase by simply taking a look for instance at the two 6 furlong races in which one winner went wire-to-wire and the other broke 5 lengths off at first call or the two 7 furlong races in which the winners were 1 length back at first call in one of the races and 7 lengths back in the other, so there is little for a position and/or pace player to take from the turf as of yet.

Use this information carefully but even with only 37 fast dirt track races in hand it might be wise, once the track returns to good-fast rating (still sloppy as of Friday 5/9) to see if a horse you like for other reasons also gets a push from its projected running style.

EXTRA LOOK-IN…HOT JOCKS AND COLD JOCKS

Before I wrap up I thought I’d include a list of the GOING GOOD and NOT SO GOOD jockeys as of Thursday. May 8:

HOT JOCKS
Jose Ortiz—17-7-1-2
Irad Ortiz – 33-5-6-6
John Velazquez—14-4-2-3
Junior Alvarado—23-4-6-2
Luis Saez—12-3-2-0
Chris DeCarlo – 13-3-1-6

NOT SO HOT JOCKS
Taylor Rice—25-1-5-3
Rajiv Maragh—20-1-3-5
Michael Luzzi— 20-2-1-2
Eddie Castro—16-2-1-2

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