By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Five years ago, a stoutly-bred colt named Commissioner tried
to pull off a gate-to-wire upset in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (gr. I) at
Belmont Park. Entering the final furlong, he was 1 ½ lengths in front, and
victory in the third jewel of the Triple Crown seemed all but certain.
Unfortunately for Commissioner, he was nabbed in the
final strides by Tonalist, missing out on classic glory by just a head. But
although he lost on the day, no one ever questioned Commissioner's stamina, and
in 2015 he won a trio of graded stakes races going 1 3/16 miles or farther.
In 2016, Commissioner's dam, Flaming Heart, produced a
gray colt by Tapit, coincidentally the sire of Tonalist plus two other Belmont
Stakes winners. With such a classy, stamina-oriented pedigree, the Tapit colt
sold for $750,000 as a 2yo-in-training and was given the regal name Intrepid Heart.
Now here we are in 2019, and it turns out Intrepid Heart
has talent to go along with his pedigree. In fact, he'll be favored to win
Saturday's $300,000 Peter Pan Stakes
(gr. III) at Belmont Park, and a strong performance will propel him toward a
start in the Belmont Stakes, where he'll seek to avenge the defeat suffered by his
half-brother at the hooves of his other half-brother. You can't make this stuff
Trainer Todd Pletcher nominated Intrepid Heart to the
Triple Crown prior to his debut, so it wasn't surprising to see the
well-regarded colt start as an odds-on favorite in a one-mile maiden race at
Oaklawn Park on February 18th. With Hall of Fame jockey John
Velazquez in the saddle, Intrepid Heart carved out steady fractions of :23.11,
:47.28, and 1:12.63 and powered away in the stretch to win by 7 ¾ lengths with
an 84 Beyer speed figure.
It was an eye-catching performance, but I was even more
impressed by Intrepid Heart's victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional
claiming race on April 5th at Keeneland. Reserved in third place
behind fractions of :24.14, :48.28, and 1:12.40, Intrepid Heart came under
urging on the far turn and seemed to be spinning his wheels as lone leader High
Crime turned for home with a 2 ½-length lead. But Intrepid Heart showed remarkable
resilience and determination in the homestretch, grinding on to reel in High
Crime and prevail by a half-length with a 92 Beyer.
Notably, Intrepid Heart wasn't just wearing down a tiring
leader—the finishing fractions were quick (the final five-sixteenths elapsed in
:30.99 seconds), and Intrepid Heart was the only horse to gain meaningful
ground on High Crime, who finished 2 ½ lengths clear of the third-place horse.
Intrepid Heart won on his own merit and showed a new dimension (stalking the
pace) while doing so.
As a result, I'm excited to see what Intrepid Heart can
accomplish in the Peter Pan. Stretching out to 1 1/8 miles should help his
chances since he's bred to thrive running even farther, and in this small
field, his tactical speed will be a valuable asset. The 92 Beyer he posted last
time out is the highest in the Peter Pan field, and drawing the rail will give him
an opportunity to take command at the start and lead this field on a merry
Although I expect Intrepid Heart to win, I won't be particularly
disappointed if he finishes second, as Commissioner did in this same race five
years ago. The Belmont Stakes is where Intrepid Heart is truly bred to shine, and
this race is just a steppingstone to that goal.
Intrepid Heart's main challenger appears to be Global Campaign, a son of Curlin out of
an A.P. Indy mare who is also bred to relish the 1 ½-mile distance of the
Belmont Stakes. Global Campaign began his career with two easy pace-tracking
wins at Gulfstream Park, including a decisive allowance victory over the Grade
1-placed Standard Deviation in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race.
Global Campaign subsequently finished fifth by 5 ½ lengths
in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), but I thought his performance was
better than it appears on paper. Facing a high-class field, Global Campaign grabbed
a quarter (injured his foot) coming out of the starting gate and then raced
much closer to a blazing early pace than the eventual top three finishers Code
of Honor, Bourbon War, and Vekoma. Despite making a premature move into this
hot pace, Global Campaign didn't give way badly down the lane and might have
fared better with a more patient ride.
Given a bit of time off after the Fountain of Youth,
Global Campaign returned to the work tab at the end of March and has posted
five workouts in preparation for the Peter Pan, including five furlongs in a
quick :59 2/5 on April 27th. He was actually entered to run in the
Pat Day Mile Stakes (gr. III) on Kentucky Derby Day, but was scratched after
winding up on the also-eligible list.
Despite the obstacles he's faced, Global Campaign should
give a good account of himself in the Peter Pan. If anyone has the potential to
upset Intrepid Heart, I think it's Global Campaign, though a runner-up finish strikes
me as the more likely outcome on Saturday.
For third place, Final
Jeopardy warrants support after a significantly troubled start in the Wood
Memorial (gr. II) left him far off the early pace. He actually rallied with
some degree of interest to finish sixth after trailing by 17 lengths down the backstretch,
so with a clean run in the Peter Pan, we could see this Jason Servis-trained
colt rebound in a big way. Two starts back, he won a one-mile allowance
optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park in decisive fashion, tracking the
pace before pulling away to win by 3 ¾ lengths over Borracho, who won a similar
race at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Peter Pan
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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.