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
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
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?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contest page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)
Congratulations to Lady Ann for winning the 2023 Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge! Be sure to check out the final results. Thanks to all who played!
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.