Thought the 3-year-old prep races were over? Not so fast!
It's true the Kentucky Derby is in the books. And, yes, it's only one week until the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and four weeks until the final jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.
But there are horses and trainers who weren't ready for the Triple Crown events. Now they're looking forward to the other big races this year. And Belmont Park Saturday has -- that's right! -- a prep for those races down the road.
It's the Peter Pan Stakes, for 3-year-olds, going 1 1/8 miles on the sweeping Belmont Park main track. The Peter Pan is listed as a stepping stone to the Belmont Stakes and a couple of the names entered for this year's renewal should be familiar from the various Kentucky Derby prelims. But more is at stake than positioning for the Belmont.
The morning-line favorite in a field of 12 is Mark Valeski, who just missed in the Grade II Risen Star and Grade I Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, and then took a pass on the Run for the Roses.
"It wasn't because we didn't have confidence in the horse," said trainer Larry Jones. "He's a nice horse. But we felt he was 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."
The Proud Citizen colt sent the right signal Monday, working 5 furlongs at Belmont in 59.65 seconds under jockey Rosie Napravnik.
"That's what we were looking for," Jones said. But as he looked forward, Jones mentioned not the Belmont Stakes but Saratoga as a target for Mark Valeski. "We're looking for a good race and looking ahead to races like the Travers," he said, referring to the "Midsummer Derby" at Saratoga Aug. 25.
The Lumber Guy won the Grade II Jerome at Aqueduct and bypasses the Preakness for this event. He is 3-for-4, with his only loss coming in the Wood Memorial.
"He's been doing very well since the Jerome," said trainer Mike Hushion. "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."
Another to watch for is Darley's Le Bernadin, a son of Bernardini out of the Wild Again mare La Rose. He has won two of three starts, including a win over older horses going 1 mile just a month ago.
"He's improving and we hope he keeps improving," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "This is a big step up."
Other than the Peter Pan, it's a slow week between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness -- except, of course, for all those getting ready for the second Triple Crown race.
Hollywood Park has a 3-year-old race Saturday -- the 7-furlong, $100,000, Grade I Lazaro S. Barrera Memorial. The only four entrants scheduled are American Act, winner of the off-the-turf Harry Henson Stakes April 26; the Bob Baffert-trained pair Drill and Gun Boat; and Boompa. The race is 7 furlongs over the all-weather track.
Woodbine's weekend features the $250,000, Can-Grade III Selene Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
And in Europe, the 3-year-olds -- and the oddsmakers -- are busily sorting out who's who for the next month's Epsom Derby.
Camelot, the 2,000 Guineas winner, remains the betting choice for the Derby, listed at even money to odds-on by the various British bookmakers. Meanwhile, Mickdaam held on to win by a nose over the late-running Model Pupil in Thursday's Chester Vase. Mickdaam's odds were dropped as a result, but only to 33-1. Bonfire, one of those most fancied should Camelot falter, is set to go Friday in the Stobart Barristers Dee Stakes at Chester despite the prospect of soft ground.