Tonalist grabbed the lead shortly after the start and strode through the slop to win Saturday's 60th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan at Belmont Park by four widening lengths, stamping himself a serious contender for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 7.
Making his first start since February, the bay son of Tapit left the gate a bit awkwardly, but quickly gathered himself and surged to the lead along the inside to set fractions of 23.79 and 46.83 seconds over the sloppy, sealed track. Wide turning for home, Tonalist appeared vulnerable for a few strides at the head of the stretch but he opened up again during the final furlong to cruise under the wire in 1:48.30 for 1 1/8 miles.
"When they opened the gate [he was a little unprepared] and then he figured it out quick," said winning jockey Joel Rosario. "He was doing it easy; he was doing it on his own. He's a big horse with a long stride, when you get him in the bridle, the more you ask, the more he'll give."
The Peter Pan, the traditional prep for the 1 ½-mile Belmont, marked the first stakes appearance for Tonalist. After coming from behind to break his maiden in his second start, Tonalist next finished second to subsequent Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Constitution but developed a long infection and was taken off the Triple Crown trail by trainer Christophe Clement.
"I thought he was fit [coming off the layoff]," said Clement, who trains Tonalist for Robert S. Evans. "This win is nice, it's great; Mr. Evans is very happy. Let's see how the horse comes out of it but of course we have to think about the Belmont Stakes. We're New York people and we're at Belmont."
The 6-5 favorite in the field of seven, Tonalist returned $4.40 for a $2 win wager and with the winner's purse of $120,000 has now earned $157,000.
Likely to join Tonalist in the starting gate for the Belmont was runner-up Commissioner, who was coming off a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
"I thought he ran pretty well,' said Todd Pletcher of the WinStar Farm color-bearer. "Second best on the day, but he seemed to handle everything pretty well. The slop didn't bother him, he put himself in a decent position, he kept running to the wire and galloped out well."
Checking in third, 2 ¼ lengths behind Commissioner, was Irish You Well. The Pletcher-trained Matterhorn, Tapicero, Our Caravan and Fabulous Kid completed the order of finish.