A Rising Star in the Peter Pan Stakes

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

The 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) is in the history books, which means it's time to turn our attention to the remainder of the Triple Crown series.

To that end, we'll spend this week analyzing the $200,000 Peter Pan S. (G3) at Belmont Park. The 1 1/8-mile contest for three-year-olds serves as a local steppingstone toward the Belmont S. (G1), the final leg of the Triple Crown. Recent Belmont winners who exited the Peter Pan (or an equivalent race) include Sir Winston (2019), Tonalist (2014), and Drosselmeyer (2010).

Nine horses have entered the 2023 Peter Pan, including five who have competed at the stakes level and three with experience in Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers. But I'm keen to back an up-and-comer; namely, the undefeated #9 Bishops Bay.

Conditioned by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, Bishops Bay impressed in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds. After tracking and pressing the early pace, Bishops Bay turned back a challenge from stablemate First Mission to prevail by three-quarters of a length, with the third-place runner another 5 1/4 lengths behind.

This performance was noteworthy on a couple of levels. Bishops Bay is a son of champion and successful sire Uncle Mo out of the Pioneerof the Nile mare Catch My Drift, winner of Saratoga's Summer Colony S. racing 1 1/8 miles. This is a pedigree geared top and bottom toward success running long, so the fact Bishops Bay showed enough speed to win sprinting on debut is significant.

Furthermore, Bishops Bay's performance has been flattered by First Mission's subsequent heroics. A dominant maiden winner in his second start, First Mission made his graded stakes debut in Keeneland's Lexington S. (G3) and battled to victory over a quality field that included Disarm, the recent fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby.

Bishops Bay likewise returned to win, nabbing an $80,000 allowance claimer racing one mile and 70 yards at Fair Grounds. His victory was not without drama; Bishops Bay clipped heels badly on the first turn and was fortunate not to fall. After recovering to track a slow pace, Bishops Bay battled with unwavering tenacity down the homestretch to prevail by a neck over Demolition Duke, who returned to finish fifth (1 1/4 lengths behind Disarm) in the Lexington.

Bishops Bay took about three weeks off after his allowance score and shipped from Fair Grounds to Churchill Downs during that timeframe. He returned to serious training with a bullet half-mile workout in :47 on April 8 and has been on a steady work pattern ever since, capping off his Peter Pan preparations with a quick five furlongs in 1:00 last Saturday.

Any way you slice it, Bishops Bay is a compelling choice to win the Peter Pan. The field doesn't contain much speed on paper, so the Triple Crown nominee figures to receive a perfect trip tracking the pace under Florent Geroux, a 28% winner teaming up with Cox over the last two months per Brisnet stats. Considering the quality of competition Bishops Bay has already defeated, he looks ready to snatch victory in his stakes debut.

For the minor awards, #2 Slip Mahoney warrants respect. The stoutly bred son of Arrogate endured a rough trip in the Wood Memorial (G2) last month, getting smashed between rivals heading into the first turn before racing evenly to finish sixth. He'd previously unleashed a big rally after a slow start to finish second in the Gotham (G3).

Slip Mahoney has raced off the pace in his last two starts, but in the past he's shown tactical speed. Indeed, he raced up and on the pace in a pair of one-mile maiden special weights at Aqueduct during the winter, finishing second by a neck against future Blue Grass (G1) winner Tapit Trice before breaking his maiden by a head. If Slip Mahoney can return recapture his early speed, he's surely capable of snagging a top-three finish in the Peter Pan.

We'll also highlight #8 Henry Q, who obliterated the Mine That Bird Derby by 14 3/4 lengths before regressing to finish third in the Sunland Park Derby (G3) behind Wild On Ice, the third-place finisher from the Mine That Bird Derby. Henry Q ran below form in his graded stakes debut, but it's worth noting that he finished ahead of One in Vermillion, who returned to finish a decent fifth (beaten 4 1/2 lengths) in a fast renewal of the Santa Anita Derby (G1) before trouncing Santa Anita's Lazaro Barrera S. by 5 1/4 lengths.

To put it another way, Henry Q has shown flashes of talent against decent competition. He's turned in a sharp series of workouts since the Sunland Park Derby and has the speed to set the pace in the Peter Pan, so don't be surprised if Henry Q proves difficult to catch under internationally acclaimed jockey Frankie Dettori.

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, 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.

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