By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The weekend between the
Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Preakness (G1) brings a busy Saturday of racing at
Belmont Park. Five graded stakes are on the agenda, and while the Man o' War
(G1) for older turf horses is the star of the card, the Peter Pan (G3) is
arguably the more intriguing betting race.
Held over 1 1/8 miles on the
main track, the Peter Pan is restricted to three-year-olds and serves as a
steppingstone toward the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (G1). In recent years,
Tonalist (2014) and Sir Winston (2019) have used the Peter Pan as a springboard
to glory in the final jewel of the Triple Crown, so the Peter Pan is definitely
an opportunity to see up-and-coming classic types in action.
Saturday's renewal of the
Peter Pan has drawn a small but quality field of six. The clear favorite on the
morning line is #6 Risk Taking (7-5),
a Chad Brown trainee who showed an affinity for 1 1/8 miles when charging to a
3 3/4-length victory over #1 Overtook (6-1)
in the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct. But Risk Taking subsequently failed to fire in
the Wood Memorial (G2), settling for seventh in a slow renewal of the race, and
it's fair to question the caliber of competition he defeated in the Withers.
#2 Nova Rags (5-2)
and #3 Promise Keeper (7-2) are
other logical contenders. Nova Rags has tactical speed and hasn't finished off
the board in five career starts, including a runner-up effort in the Sam F.
Davis (G3) and a fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby (G1). But it's worth
noting Nova Rags is 2-for-2 sprinting and 0-for-3 running long, calling into
question his ability to handle 1 1/8 miles.
As for Promise Keeper, he's
arguably the most appealing of the favorites after rallying to a 5 1/2-length
victory in an allowance optional claiming race at Keeneland. If you're willing
to draw a line through Promise Keeper's unexpected last-place effort in the
Tampa Bay Derby (G2)—where he never seriously factored as the 4-1 third choice—he's
a logical choice to prevail in the Peter Pan. Trainer Todd Pletcher has already
won this race three times, and jockey Luis Saez has gone 10-for-24 (42%) riding
for Pletcher over the last two months.
I could certainly side with
Promise Keeper and feel happy about my selection, but I'm taking a different route.
Call me crazy, but I'm siding with #4
Wolfie's Dynaghost (9-2), who hasn't run since winning his debut in a
seven-furlong maiden special weight at Aqueduct last November. I'll be the
first to admit experience is a question mark for Wolfie's Dynaghost, and with
just six workouts under his belt this year, there's no guarantee he'll be ready
to produce his A-game over 1 1/8 miles.
But at the same time, Wolfie's
Dynaghost brings many positives to the fold. Considering the following:
Wolfie's Dynaghost is
a son of 2004 Horse of the Year and successful sire Ghostzapper out of the
Dynaformer mare Dynaire. This is a pedigree geared toward stamina and late
maturity, especially when you consider how Dynaire has already foaled Sadler's
Joy, a Grade 1-winning turf router who achieved his signature victory at the
age of four.
notwithstanding, Wolfie's Dynaghost showed plenty of promise in his debut
sprinting as a juvenile. Tracking solid fractions of :22.93 and :46.80 over a
good track, Wolffie's Dynaghost edged away down the homestretch to defeat a
deep field by 1 1/2 lengths. His beaten rivals included not only eventual
Gotham (G3) winner Weyburn, but also subsequent Federico Tesio Stakes winner
The Reds, Wood Memorial (G2) runner-up Dynamic One, and Lexington (G3)
runner-up Unbridled Honor.
Wolfie's Dynaghost is
one of the few horses in the Peter Pan field who has shown tactical speed. On
paper, he figures to secure a perfect trip stalking Nova Rags threw modest
will be ridden on Saturday by hot jockey Jose Ortiz, a 23% winner at Belmont
Again, I don't know if
Wolfie's Dynaghost is the most likely winner while stretching out in distance
and returning from a six-month layoff. But I do think he has the pedigree and
potential to be a stakes-caliber racehorse, and if his 9-2 morning line odds
hold up, I believe he offers fair value in the betting.
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, videographer, voice actor, 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.