Headed by the Larry Jones-trained Mark Valeski, a field of 12 talented 3-year-olds will assemble at Belmont Park Saturday afternoon for the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan, a major steppingstone to the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Beaten narrowly in the Grade 2 Risen Star and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, Mark Valeski skipped the Kentucky Derby and instead was pointed to the 1 1/8 mile Peter Pan. The decision to bypass the first leg of racing’s Triple Crown was not because the colt wasn’t good enough, said Jones, but because he and owner Brereton Jones felt Mark Valeski was not yet in peak form.
“It wasn’t because we didn’t have confidence in the horse,” said the trainer. “He’s a nice horse. But we felt he was still a week or two away from being at his best, and we didn’t want to run him at Churchill Downs if he wasn’t at his best. But that’s me – a week late and a couple of dollars short.”
Monday at Belmont Park, the Proud Citizen colt signaled his readiness when he worked a bullet five furlongs in 59.65 over the main track with jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard.
“That was what we were looking for from him,” said Jones. “Rosie said he was playing and full of energy coming back. We’re looking for a good race and looking ahead to races like the Travers [August 25, Saratoga Race Course] for him.”
Napravnik, who won the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for the trainer with Brereton Jones’ Believe You Can, will be aboard Mark Valeski,the 5-2 morning-line favorite. The duo will leave from post position 5.
The Lumber Guy, winner of the Grade 2 Jerome at Aqueduct Racetrack, had been under consideration for the May 19 Preakness but his connections opted for the Peter Pan following his five-furlong breeze in 1:00.86 on Monday.
“He’s been doing very well since the Jerome,” said Mike Hushion, who trains The Lumber Guy for owner and breeder Barry K. Schwartz. “We’ll have to go two turns with him sometime. But if we do the right thing by the horse now, maybe there’s a big race for him down the road.”
Mike Luzzi will ride The Lumber Guy, whose only loss in four starts came when fifth in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial. The front-running Grand Slam colt, the 4-1 second choice on the Peter Pan morning line, drew post position 2.
Stepping into stakes company is Darley Stable’s regally bred Le Bernardin, who fetched $325,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton sales at Saratoga in 2010. The son of Bernardini, out of the Wild Again mare La Rose, broke his maiden at second asking on March 10 at the Big A and next was a tenacious three-quarter-length winner against older horses going a mile on April 7.
“We’ve never been happier with the way he’s training,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “We think the distance is a plus for him. He’s grown up over the winter, and his last two races were impressive. He’s improving, and we hope he keeps improving. This is a big step up.”
Eddie Castro will ride Le Bernardin, 15-1 on the morning line, from post position 4.
Right to Vote, third in last fall’s Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont, will be making his second start of 2012 in the Peter Pan. Narrow winner of an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park on March 24, the Political Force colt has been training at Keeneland and is scheduled to arrive in New York on Friday.
“He put in a pretty good race at Belmont last fall,” said Eoin Harty, who trains Right to Vote for Casner Racing. “There seems to be a lot of speed in the race, and as he’s drawn the rail, he’s going to have to rate a bit. I’m hoping he’ll run well.”
Alex Solis will ride Right to Vote, who is listed at 20-1 on the morning line.
Rounding out the field are Teeth of the Dog and Street Life, third and sixth, respectively, in the Wood Memorial; Good Morning Diva and Big Screen, first and second in the Calder Derby last time out; Hakama, most recently third in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby; Master Rick, winner of two straight at Oaklawn Park since being transferred to Steve Asmussen’s barn; Zetterholm, winner of three straight against New York-breds, and Summer Front, making his first start on conventional dirt after placing second in the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland.