By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") @J_Keelerman
With the excitement of Kentucky Derby weekend behind us, and with the anticipation of Preakness weekend still to come, this Saturday offers racing fans a chance to relax and enjoy an intriguing day of racing that features seven graded stakes races in the U.S. and Canada. One of the major attractions is the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park, a major prep for the Belmont Stakes. The field may be small—just five horses—but it nevertheless looks like an intriguing race, so without further ado, let’s start handicapping!
Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II)
||Wolf Man Rocket
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||1st Northern Spur Stakes (VIDEO)|
||4th Arkansas Derby (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||2nd Illinois Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||Two Weeks Off
||1st Allowance (VIDEO)|
||Tiz Shea D
||5th Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
The morning line favorite at 9-5 is Two Weeks Off, one of two colts in the race trained by Todd Pletcher. Last summer at Saratoga, Two Weeks Off finished second in his debut before winning a seven-furlong maiden special weight by 1 ¼ lengths, but unfortunately went to the sidelines thereafter. He returned to action on April 4th in an allowance race at Keeneland, which was held at the unusual distance of seven furlongs, 184 feet, and scored a decisive 6 ½-length victory in the sharp time of 1:25.13, with a six-furlong fraction of 1:09.79. For his efforts, he was awarded an impressive Beyer speed figure of 104, the best in the field by a wide margin. Although he will be running substantially farther on Saturday than he has ever run before, the one-turn nature of the Peter Pan Stakes should suit him well, and the absence of any other definite front-runners should help his chances. He looks like a deserving favorite, and I believe he will win this race.
His strongest challenger is probably Wolf Man Rocket, from the barn of Bob Baffert. After finishing second in his first two starts at Santa Anita, Wolf Man Rocket shipped to Oaklawn Park and broke his maiden in the one-mile Northern Spur Stakes, settling a few lengths off the pace before running his final quarter-mile in about :25 flat to win by 1 ¾ lengths. It was an eye-catching performance, and his pedigree suggests that he will have no trouble handling another furlong, but I do wonder whether the cutback to one turn will hamper his chances of catching the speedier Two Weeks Off.
Todd Pletcher’s other starter is Madefromlucky, who finished second in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) behind Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah before fading to finish fourth behind that same rival in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I). In terms of Beyer speed figures, he’s been steadily improving, but will likely need to take another step forward to contend against the favorites in this race. He figures to work out a decent trip stalking the pace, but he hasn’t shown much acceleration in his recent races, and could find it difficult to try and wear down Two Weeks Off while simultaneously attempting to hold off the stretch-runners.
Conquest Curlinate turned in a nice effort last time out to finish second by a nose in the nine-furlong Illinois Derby (gr. III), but he did take advantage of a fast pace to rally from way behind, and his lack of tactical speed—and the lack of front-runners in the Peter Pan to ensure a fast pace—could leave him at a disadvantage.
The last horse in the field is Tiz Shea D, who scored an impressive victory in his debut before finishing second in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) after tracking a fast pace. He failed to fire when finishing a distant fifth in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), but flashed enough tactical speed in the Gotham to suggest that he could be part of the Peter Pan pace. He will likely be overlooked in the wagering off his poor showing in the Wood, but I like his chances to track a modest pace and stay involved for a top-three finish.
So to recap, I’ll take Two Weeks Off as my selection to win and hope that he can utilize his superior speed to steal the race in gate-to-wire fashion. Who do you like in the Peter Pan Stakes?