The Brock Talk

Friday, May 13, 2011

Historical Peter Pan Returns To Belmont Lore

The New York Racing Association has returned the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. 2) to their schedule of added-money events after a one year hiatus, and I for one, am happy about it. Long regarded as the local prep race for the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1), the 1-1/8 mile Peter Pan has a very interesting history and an 11-horse field Saturday trying to add to lore.

It has been some time since A.P. Indy (photo right) used the Peter Pan as a springboard to his 1992 Belmont Stakes and eventual Horse of the Year honors, but there were many great Peter Pan winners before and few good ones since.

One of the more interesting recent Peter Pan winners was Casino Drive in 2009. Purchased for $950,000 at the 2006 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by Hidetoshi Yamamoto, Casino Drive was then shipped to Japan where he would make his first start nearly two years later in an allowance race. He won the allowance race easily and because of Casino Drive’s family, Yamamoto returned him to the United States to prepare for the Belmont Stakes in the Peter Pan. Casino Drive was by 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, out of the mare Better Than Honour, making him a half-brother to 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil and a three-quarter brother to 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches.

He won the Peter Pan Stakes but unfortunately, Casino Drive was scratched from the Belmont days before the race. Casino Drive later won an allowance race in New York preparing for the Breeders’ Cup that year, but despite his undefeated record, Casino Drive would finish last in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1). He would end his career finishing sixth in the Japan Cup Dirt the next year in his only other race.

Before A.P. Indy, seven other Peter Pan winners went on to take the Belmont Stakes, including Danzig Connection (1986), Slew o’Gold (’83), Coastal (’79) and Caravan (’58) among them.

But the 1957 Peter Pan Stakes was a part of one of the more interesting stories in horse racing folklore. Considered by some to be the greatest crop of 3-year-olds ever, the sophomore thoroughbreds that year included 1957 Horse of the Year Bold Ruler; Round Table, later named the 1958 Horse of the Year; Kentucky Derby winner Iron Liege and Gallant Man.

In the Kentucky Derby that year, Iron Liege had the lead down the stretch, but Gallant Man was making up ground with every stride. As the two passed by the sixteenth pole, just as it appeared Gallant Man would take the lead and win the Kentucky Derby, jockey Bill Shoemaker misjudged the finish line and stood up on Gallant Man. Shoemaker quickly corrected his error and instantly resumed riding, but it was too late as Iron Liege and Bill Hartack won the Derby by a nose.

Shoemaker received a 15-day suspension for the mistake but John Nerud, the trainer of Gallant Man and a former jockey himself, never came to terms with the historical bungle by the young jockey. But whether by instruction from owner Ralph Lowe or a slow recovery from shock, Nerud again had Shoemaker aboard Gallant Man in his next race, the Peter Pan four weeks later.

Shoemaker and Gallant Man won the Peter Pan then two weeks later took the Belmont Stakes by eight lengths over Inside Track in second and Bold Ruler in third. Shoemaker and Gallant Man became quite a team after that, eventually winning seven of their next ten races including the 1957 Jockey Club Gold Cup and the 1958 Hollywood Gold Cup.

High Point in 1953 and Counterpoint in ’51 also won the Peter Pan before also winning the Belmont, but there are other memorable – perhaps not among the greats, but memorable nonetheless – Peter Peter Pan victors. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Grand Slam in 1998 and Seeking the Gold from the famous Phipps Stable ten years earlier are notable Peter Pan winners along with Leo Castelli in 1987 and Ponder in ’49.

With a nice sized field of 11 set for the 2011 edition of the Peter Pan, there is every possibility that another star is among them. Whether or not that turns out to be case, is of little consequence to me. I’m just happy to have the Peter Pan back.

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