ELMONT, N.Y. - With an eye towards the 146th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, seven 3-year-olds will line up in the starting gate on Saturday for the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan, Belmont Park's traditional prep race for the June 7 "Test of the Champion."
The 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan kicks off a weekend of outstanding stakes action that continues on Sunday, Mother's Day, with the Grade 1, $400,000 Man o' War, the Grade 2, $250,000 Ruffian and the Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester. All three races on Sunday will be televised from 4:30 - 6 p.m. as part of "The Jockey Club Tour on FOX" on Fox Sports 1. The Mother's Day festivities also will enhanced by holiday-themed giveaways and a special Family Fun Day.
Todd Pletcher, a two-time Belmont Stakes winning trainer, is hopeful that his improving duo of Commissioner and Matterhorn both will earn starting berths in the 1 Â½-mile Belmont off their Peter Pan performances.
A son of 1992 Peter Pan and Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, Commissioner was impressive in his first three starts before finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in February at Gulfstream Park. He rebounded with a third behind Chitu in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, and most recently was sixth in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby after acting up before the race.
"Things didn't go well in the paddock and we feel it compromised his chances before he even got out there," said Pletcher of the WinStar Stable color-bearer. "Hopefully we'll correct that and get a true reading on him."
Matterhorn, for whom Coolmore paid $625,000 as a 2-year-old in training, will be making his first stakes start after finishing third against older horses at the Peter Pan distance on March 28 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"We were very impressed by Matterhorn's debut," said Pletcher of the Tapit colt's first outing in November at the Big A. "He spent part of the winter playing catch up. I think similar to what we saw in Wicked Strong, he did not particularly care for Gulfstream surface. At the time he ran [February] it was very speed-favoring. I thought his last start was better than it looked on paper. Hopefully that will set him up well for this."
Matterhorn, 6-1 on the morning line, drew the rail under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, while Commissioner with Javier Castellano aboard, will leave from post position 3 at 5-2 on the morning line.
Favored at 2-1 on the morning line in his stakes debut is Robert S. Evans' Tonalist. From the barn of Christophe Clement - better-known for his outstanding success with turf horses - Tonalist enters the Peter Pan off three starts, most recently a second-place finish to subsequent Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Constitution. The Tapit colt was kept off the early Triple Crown trail with a lung infection, but Clement has been delighted with the way he is coming into Saturday's race and also looking ahead to a possible start in the Belmont.
"I'm excited," said Clement. "Let's go."
Clement will give a leg up to Joel Rosario, with the pair leaving from post position 4.
Anstu Stables' Our Caravan has made four career starts, bracketing two off-the-board stakes appearances at Gulfstream Park with a maiden win at that track and a 9 Â¾-length victory in the Calder Derby on April 4.
"He's been training great," said his conditioner, Michael Dilger, of the Daaher colt, 5-1 on the morning line. "I think the speed bias at Gulfstream Park [for the Grade 2 Holy Bull and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth] didn't play to his strength. We're hoping he runs well enough to earn a spot in the Belmont."
Our Caravan will tote high weight of 120 pounds, giving four pounds to his rivals, as he leaves from post position 6 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaram, who campaigned 2009 Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, are looking to return to the final leg of racing's Triple Crown with their homebred Fabulous Kid. The son of Congrats won his debut at Oaklawn Park on March 29 and returned there two weeks later to finish third, beaten less than a length, in the one-mile Northern Spur.
"I've had him about two weeks now, and he's been doing everything right," said new trainer Jimmy Toner of Fabulous Kid, who drew post position 2 and was listed at 4-1 on the morning line. "He had a nice three-quarter breeze here last week [1:14.89 on Belmont's main track] under Junior Alvarado, and he seemed quite happy for him. This will be a kind of litmus test to see where we are with him."
Rounding out the field are the Wayne Catalano-trained Irish You Well, a maiden who most recently finished third in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby in his seventh career start, and Tapicero, who is 2-2-1 from six career starts in Florida.
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