Just Whistle Looks Promising in Peter Pan Stakes

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The Kentucky Derby might be over, but handicappers with an eye on the remainder of the Triple Crown can't afford to take a week off. After all, we'll have a chance to take a look at some up-and-coming Belmont Stakes contenders in Saturday's $350,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park, a race that has attracted some very promising colts.

On paper, the horse to beat is clearly Core Beliefs, who ships in from California for trainer Peter Eurton. It's not every day that Eurton runs a horse at Belmont, but when he does, it's worth paying attention--from four starters at Belmont last year, Eurton picked up maiden and allowance wins with the future graded stakes winner Giant Expectations and also had runners place third and fourth in stakes races.

Even a brief glance at Core Beliefs' past performances makes it clear why he's a contender in the Peter Pan. His third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) last time out will catch eyes since the winner, Justify, came back to prevail in the Kentucky Derby. Also significant, Core Beliefs finished 1 ¼ lengths in front of Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) winner Instilled Regard, who came back to run fourth as a longshot in the Kentucky Derby.

Core Beliefs' third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby was hardly a fluke either. He may have been 41-1 that day, but that was simply the result of running in the same race as Justify and the two-time Grade 1 winner Bolt d'Oro, who attracted most of the wagering attention. Core Beliefs had previously broken his maiden in gate-to-wire fashion against a decent field at Santa Anita (runner-up Longden came right back to win), and his two runs before that yielded third-place finishes in tough maiden races against the likes of Nero, Curly's Rocket, and Once On Whiskey, all of them talented colts with seemingly bright futures.

From a speed figure perspective, Core Beliefs is the fastest horse in the Peter Pan field--he's earned Beyers of 90 and 92 in his last two starts, along with a 103 BRIS for his Santa Anita Derby effort. Even better, Core Beliefs could have a significant tactical advantage in the Peter Pan Stakes--the majority of his rivals prefer to rally from off the pace, and the only horse that appears capable of beating Core Beliefs to the early lead (Diamond King) may scratch to await the Preakness Stakes.

But despite Core Beliefs' obvious virtues, I get the feeling that he could face a stiff challenge from the Michael Matz-trained colt Just Whistle. This is a horse whose pedigree has "Belmont Stakes" written all over it; his sire, Pioneerof the Nile, finished second in the Kentucky Derby and sired Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, while Just Whistle's dam--the Street Cry mare And Why Not--placed in several graded stakes races around two turns, including the 2013 Delaware Handicap (gr. I) going ten furlongs.

Considering his pedigree, Just Whistle didn't seem like the type of colt that would excel sprinting as a two-year-old, though his lone run last year--a fifth-place finish in a six-furlong maiden race at Delaware Park--was a respectable effort. He went to the sidelines after that, returning seven months later in an 8.5-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Park that seemed to be a much better fit for his pedigree. Sent off at 36-1, Just Whistle endured a very wide trip while breaking from post ten, but closed ground resolutely in the homestretch to finish just a half-length behind Hofburg, who proved his quality by going on to finish second in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and seventh in the Kentucky Derby.

A month later, Just Whistle was favored to win a similar maiden race at Keeneland and delivered his best run yet, settling off the pace while saving ground before launching a long, sustained rally to reel in the pace-setting Cavaradossi and win by 1 ½ lengths. His final time of 1:43.49 for a mile and a sixteenth was actually faster than the time of 1:44.22 posted by My Boy Jack in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) later in the day, though the track was drying out from rain as the day went on and My Boy Jack received the higher Beyer speed figure.

But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Just Whistle's performances is that he does not seem to be particularly adept at maintaining a high rate of speed around turns. In both of his starts this year, Just Whistle has been under pressure to keep up on the far turn, only to find a new gear once in the homestretch. With this in mind, I suspect that Just Whistle could find the conditions of the Peter Pan Stakes much more to his liking--negotiating just one turn (and a gentle, sweeping turn over the huge Belmont Park oval at that) could potentially help him get into the race sooner and improve his overall performance by a lot.

In my opinion, the Peter Pan Stakes is going to come down to a battle between Core Beliefs and Just Whistle, with my slight preference being for Just Whistle, who should start at better odds. I think combining these two in the exacta box would be a solid play, while bettors seeking to play the trifecta or superfecta might want to turn their attention to High North, who showed improved speed with the addition of blinkers to win the 8.5-furlong Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn Park last month.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Peter Pan Stakes?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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