Though some may still be catching their breath from the Derby, the racing world moves on, and so do we here at Picks and Ponderings.
This weekend, we visit Belmont Park for a pair of graded stakes at Belmont Park: the Grade I Man o’ War for the older turf route set, as well as the Grade II Peter Pan for three-year-olds who want to take Big Sandy for a test drive before pointing toward next month’s Belmont Stakes.
These races, just like all races at Belmont Park, will be streamed live on the Belmont Park website.
Both races are scheduled for Saturday, March 14 at Belmont Park. For the Man o’ War, the turf rail is set at 9 feet.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Edited May 13 to add morning lines. Authors of each preview are denoted by initials at the end: PM for Paul Mazur, and NN for Nicolle Neulist.
Race 9: Peter Pan Stakes (GII), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:45pm EDT
This $200,000 race did not take its name from a fairy tale character…but from Peter Pan the Hall of Fame racehorse, a son of the mare Cinderella. The fact that the Peter Pan Stakes has become the local prep for the Belmont makes sense in light of the fact that Peter Pan himself won the 1907 Belmont. All told, Peter Pan won ten times in seventeen starts, including the 1906 Hopeful Stakes and the 1907 Brooklyn Derby. Though a tendon injury cut Peter Pan’s racing career short after his win against older in the 1907 Brighton Handicap, he was that year’s champion three-year-old male and also made strong account of himself in the stud barn. He sired four champions: Puss In Boots, Vexatious, Prudery, and Tryster. Prudery and Tryster gave Peter Pan’s progeny a sweep of the champion two year old filly and colt designations in 1920 — and Prudery went on to be champion three year old filly the following year, as well.
The Peter Pan was run from 1940-1960, and again from 1975 through the present day. It has been run at its current 1 1/8 mile distance since its inauguration, except for 1975 and 1976, when it was run at a flat mile. It has been run at Belmont every time except for 1975, when it took place at Aqueduct. Over its history, it has produced eight winners of the Belmont Stakes — though it was particularly productive in the 1950s, during which four Peter Pan winners went on to take the Test of the Champion. The eight horses who have performed that sweep included Counterpoint (1951), High Gun (1954), Gallant Man (1957), Cavan (1958), Coastal (1979), Danzig Connection (1986), A. P. Indy (1992), and Tonalist (2014).
Tonalist wins the 2014 Peter Pan Stakes. Next out, he would become the first horse since A. P. Indy to close out the Peter Pan/Belmont Stakes double.
GOVERNOR MALIBU crossed the wire first at a mile and an eighth last time out. Though he was disqualified to second for coming in on Awesome Speed, it was still a solid performance at the distance, particularly in light of the facts that it was his first start in two months, and his first start out of New York-bred company. His stalking style should fit this race beautifully: he will not be too far off the pace. But, he will also not feel the need to send with UNIFIED — a good thing, since SINGLETON will likely send, and DECORATED SOLDIER will not be far off, either. GOVERNOR MALIBU stands to kick on nicely from a length or two back, and have plenty of gas second off the lay. The connections are also top-notch: trainer Christophe Clement (20% with runners 2nd off the lay) and rider Joel Rosario (23% so far at Belmont).
WILD ABOUT DEB races for just the third time, and comes in second off the lay. But, he does have a win going a mile and an eighth; he romped in the slop at Santa Anita on April 9. With at least some chance of rain in the forecast, he will be well suited should that come to fruition. Like GOVERNOR MALIBU, WILD ABOUT DEB has also shown an ability to stalk the pace; he sat a couple of lengths off the early going in his win at Santa Anita, and took over powerfully. The biggest question about WILD ABOUT DEB is the ship; he has not posted a local work at Belmont, and trainer Phil d’Amato’s 10% win rate with shippers is not the best. However, he hits the board with his shippers about half the time, which allays that fear a bit. WILD ABOUT DEB has a win at the distance, has shown he can be fast enough to contend with these types, and has upside to improve at a square price.
Finally, we get to two horses who stand to take a bucket of money here, UNIFIED and DECORATED SOLDIER. UNIFIED has been dazzling in both of his starts to date, but he stretches to a route distance (albeit still over one turn) for the first time here. DECORATED SOLDIER has the fact that he has gone two turns before going for him; he emerged victorious in the Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn last out, going a flat mile. UNIFIED has sent to the front in both of his sprint efforts, and seems likely to do so again as the speed of the speed. DECORATED SOLDIER has gotten embroiled in a contested pace at some point in each of his last two starts, but has gotten his nose on the wire first both times. That sense of “fight” appeals, as does the fact that he is trained by solid three-year-old trainer (and solid New York trainer) Todd Pletcher. However, UNIFIED has been downright brilliant in his two starts so far. And, both trainer Jimmy Jerkens and rider Jose Ortiz have started the Belmont meet blazing hot. The mile and an eighth for UNIFIED is a bit of a question given the underside of the pedigree: dam Union City was a sprinter, and her only other winning progeny also won at a sprint distance. However, the Candy Ride on top gives a suggestion that he may stretch out. UNIFIED has also been working well (and long) at Belmont. Even at the shorter price, UNIFIED appeals slightly more as a defensive use.
UNIFIED also seems a bit more attractive a defensive use than ADVENTIST, who has been knocking around the New York derby prep ranks and finishing third a lot, but has not won a race since a sprint in December. The switch to Irad Ortiz may be a positive thing, but the record of repeatedly being “not quite” against a bunch of horses who proved themselves to be not quite among the best of their class gives serious pause on ADVENTIST.
#5 GOVERNOR MALIBU (10/1)
#6 WILD ABOUT DEB (8/1)
#7 UNIFIED (4/5)
Longshot: #8 LOST IRON (15/1) has only raced three times, but all three of his races have come at a mile and an eighth. He left himself far too much to do late in his pair of Gulfstream starts. But, in his try at Aqueduct on April 1, he put on the blinkers, sat closer to the pace, and prevailed by daylight against older. This will be a class rise: not just his first try against stakes company, but his first try against winners at all. However, LOST IRON comes from the barn of Bill Mott — a 24% trainer with last-out maiden winners. He also gets Junior Alvarado back in the irons; Alvarado has ridden him once before, and that was his maiden win. Though LOST IRON will have to run the best race of his career so far, and may need a bit of pace help on the front end, the connections are quality and he is lightly enough raced to suggest improvement is a possibility at a good price. — NN
Race 10: Man o’ War Stakes (GI), four-year-olds and up, one and three eighths miles on the Inner turf, post time 6:17pm EDT
As famous racehorses go, Man o’ War stands among the giants. Whether it be for his namesake to this race, a major road in Lexington, his plaque in the Kentucky Horse Park, or him being named by Blood-Horse as the greatest horse of the twentieth century, Man o’ War needs little in the way of introduction. The dual classic winner (who – gasp! – skipped the Kentucky Derby) set three world records in his career and in the stud ranks was the sire of 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957, the Man o’ War was created two years later and first staged in split divisions at cross-town Aqueduct. Given a Grade One in 1973 – the first year of American Stakes grading – its winner that year was Secretariat, who turned to turf after besting elders in the Woodward.
For many years, the Man o’ War was an Autumn race that typically was a prep, the end goal being the Turf Classic Invitational at twelve furlongs. In 2008 the race moved to the summertime, usually in the second week of July. In 2014 the race found a new home on the calendar in the second week of May. Whether in the Fall, Summer, or Spring, the eleven-furlong Man o’ War has always been (since the advent of race grading) a Grade One. Past winners include current Belmont Park stakes nameplates of Fort Marcy (1970) and Bowl Game (1979), the aforementioned Secretariat (1973), and double winners Majesty’s Prince (1983, 1984) and Gio Ponti (2009, 2010). The position of this race in either July or (for many years) September often meant this race was either one race before the Arlington Million on a turf campaigner’s schedule or one race after. For Star of Cozzene (1993), it was Million then Man o’ War. For Gio Ponti in 2009 and Cape Blanco (2011), it was Man o’ War then Million.
This observer hasn’t ever thought of UP WITH THE BIRDS as a Grade One horse. And this space thinks he can win this Grade One. So what gives? The best and brightest of the marathon turf division may have been starting out going short in last week’s G1 Woodford Reserve (like Big Blue Kitten or Divisidero), or resting up planning for summer events (like The Pizza Man), or perhaps resting until the $12M Pegasus Classic on Dirt – but this observer doesn’t think the $400,000 Grade One Man o’ War turned up strong. It did have a stratified field – and multi-race players (this race is the last of four stakes – and all in the pick six with a $100K carryover) can confidently take three horses with them. But for a win selection, it’s UP WITH THE BIRDS. Winner of the G1 Jamaica back when this race was in the fall, he has another second in the G3 Knickerbocker going nine panels. While he hasn’t gotten a win photo in a long time – he’s been dancing all the dances and cashing checks. He’s shown his best form in two turns races like the Canadian International (2nd this past year) and at Arlington (superfecta finishes in back-to-back Millions) – races on wider courses. Perhaps it’s an explanation for a fifth and a ninth going three turns in his last two starts. Maybe the ideal setting is a strong G2 race around two turns – which the Man o’ War is – and the Graham Motion trainee has Jose Ortiz in the irons. KAIGUN and WAKE FOREST went 1-2 in the G2 Pan American and needed a photo to separate them. This space likes them both to complete the top three that a multi-race bettor can confidently take. The edge will be to WAKE FOREST who goes second off the long layoff after just missing to KAIGUN on Florida Derby Day. Locals will recall WAKE FOREST running an even mid-pack race in last year’s Arlington Million.
#6 UP WITH THE BIRDS (6/1)
#9 WAKE FOREST (2/1)
#7 KAIGUN (5/2)
Longshot: This race drew a dearth of speed, and maybe the only one-way speed here is Peter Vegso’s #5 GO AROUND (10/1). Perhaps this fact gets amplified given the clutch-and-grab nature of any New York turf route. Nonetheless, Junior Alvarado is the assigned rider on GO AROUND, a Bill Mott trainee. If the humans are familiar – this is the same owner/trainer pair as Go Between, and GO AROUND is his younger half brother. GO AROUND has two wins beyond nine furlongs and Go Between won a synthetic renewal of the G1 Pacific Classic at ten furlongs. GO AROUND cleared his N2X condition two back and last time won a Florida-bred stakes at Tampa Bay. He’s got two wins past nine furlongs as well. If he can handle the distance like his half brother and if he can get loose on the front, he could last longer than people think. — PM
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