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Aaron previews the 2023 Peter Pan Stakes (G3) from Belmont Park, then gives his top picks & long shots from the local prep race for the Belmont Stakes (G1). Go Soldier Go, winner of the Al Bastakiya Stakes at Dubai prior to finishing 5th in the UAE Derby (G2), makes his US racing debut with new trainer Todd Pletcher. Can jockey Flavien Prat pilot him to an upset? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will have two chances to secure a record-extending fifth victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan as he saddles Victorious Racing’s Go Soldier Go and Whisper Hill Farm’s Classic Catch in Saturday’s nine-furlong test for sophomores at Belmont Park.
The Peter Pan is the traditional local prep for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 10.
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The talented Go Soldier Go, previously trained by Fawzi Nass, makes both his North American debut and first start for Pletcher off a fifth-place finish to Derma Sotogake, a next-out sixth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, in the Group 2 UAE Derby on March 25 at Meydan where he failed to fire and was defeated 15 lengths. It marked the only off-the-board finish for the chestnut son of Tapiture, who broke his maiden at allowance level in impressive fashion on February 5, closing from near the back of the six-horse field to take command with 250 meters to the finish and draw away to a 5 1/2-length score in the 1 3/16-mile route.
Go Soldier Go followed with a determined head victory in the Al Bastakiya going the same distance and landed the narrow win over Mr Raj. The $45,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase has breezed four times over the Belmont Park dirt training track since mid-April, most recently covering a half-mile in 48.81 seconds on Saturday.
Byron Hughes, Pletcher’s Belmont-based assistant, said Go Soldier Go has made a good first impression.
“He’s doing good and has settled in well,” said Hughes. “He’s put in some good solid breezes and we’re excited to see what he can do in the afternoon. He’s a big, scopey horse and has a big, long stride to him. He’s a good-looking horse and a good galloper. We’re happy with him.”
Flavien Prat has the call from post 6.
2023 Preakness Stakes
Classic Catch adds blinkers as he looks to build off a closing fifth-place finish last out in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on April 8 at Aqueduct Racetrack where he made his stakes debut.
The Classic Empire colt, who has been on the board in 4-of-5 lifetime outings, stalked in 11th-of-12 through the first three points of call before advancing under urging from Trevor McCarthy in the turn and improving to sixth at the stretch call. He made up ground down the lane to finish 5 1/2 lengths behind the bunched up top trio of the victorious Lord Miles, runner-up Hit Show, and third-place stablemate Dreamlike. He was bested out of fourth by a head by Arctic Arrogance.
“He came out of the Wood in good shape and has been breezing steadily,” said Hughes. “We’re excited about him and I thought he closed well to run a sneaky good race in the Wood. We’re hoping he puts it all together in the Peter Pan. His coat and weight look good.”
The $110,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase broke his maiden at second asking going the Peter Pan distance in November at Aqueduct. He followed with a close third-place finish in a first-level allowance optional claimer going one mile and 40 yards at Tampa Bay Downs before finding the winner’s circle again when stretching back out to nine furlongs in a March 2 optional claimer at Gulfstream Park.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride from post 5.
Two-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Brad Cox has also entered two contenders in the undefeated Bishops Bay [post 9, Florent Geroux] and graded stakes-placed Slip Mahoney [post 2, Joel Rosario], who is cross-entered in Saturday’s Long Branch at Monmouth Park.
Spendthrift Farm, Steve Landers Racing, Martin Schwartz, Michael Dubb, Ten Strike Racing, Jim Bakke, Titletown Racing, Kueber Racing, Big Easy Racing, Winners Win, Michael Caruso and WinStar Farm’s Bishops Bay makes his stakes debut off a prominent win in a one-mile and 70-yard optional claiming tilt on March 19 at Fair Grounds Race Course where he posted a neck victory over stablemate Demolition Duke.
The son of Uncle Mo was an impressive debut winner on February 18 over the same course when he scored a three-quarter-length victory over stablemate First Mission, who exited that race to win next out and take the Grade 3 Lexington two starts later. Bishops Bay earned a field-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.
“He came in yesterday and had a gallop over the training track this morning,” said Dustin Dugas, Cox’s Belmont assistant. “You couldn’t ask for a horse to ship in any better. He got over the track well and they say he’s been training very well down in Kentucky. He seems like a very kind horse and is easy to get along with.”
The $450,000 Keeneland September Yearling sale purchase is out of the multiple graded stakes-placed Pioneerof the Nile mare Catch My Drift, who also produced the multiple stakes-placed colt Strava.
Gold Square’s Slip Mahoney was last seen finishing a troubled sixth in the Wood Memorial. The son of Arrogate was checked hard heading into the first turn and was forced to steady before making up ground down the backstretch and into the final turn before being defeated 7 1/4 lengths.
Slip Mahoney graduated at third asking in a one-mile maiden in January at Aqueduct and followed with an impressive runner-up effort to Raise Cain in the Grade 3 Gotham where he broke slow and tracked 11 lengths off the pace before showing a strong turn of foot under Trevor McCarthy and earning place honors.
Dugas said he was particularly impressed with Slip Mahoney’s breeze on Saturday over the Belmont training track when he covered a half-mile in 47.29 in company with stakes-placed Capella.
“He had a huge breeze here this past week and I was very happy with it,” said Dugas. “I’m pleased with the way he came out of the work and the way he is coming into this race. He’s always a high energy horse and he’s hitting the track with good energy.”
The Del Mar Group’s Henry Q makes his return to the barn of Doug O’Neill after a pair of stakes starts for trainer Todd Fincher. The Blame colt graduated in his third outing for O’Neill in a February maiden claimer at Santa Anita Park before heading to Sunland Park in New Mexico for a try at stakes company. He posted a dominant score in the February 28 Mine That Bird Derby when setting the pace for the 1 1/16 miles and drawing away to the 14 3/4-length victory geared down under Edwin Maldonado. He was awarded a 93 Beyer for the effort.
Henry Q stretched out to nine furlongs for his next outing in the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby almost one month later and set the pace again under Maldonado, but could not fend off the bids of Low Expectations to his inside and the victorious Wild On Ice to his outside. He swung to an outside path mid-turn and faded to finish third.
Henry Q has worked back four times since at Santa Anita, most recently covering five-eighths handily in 1:02.20 on Saturday.
Frankie Dettori has been tasked with the ride from post 8.
Waterford Stable’s stakes-placed Kentucky homebred Summer Cause finished a close third last out when making his stakes debut in Laurel Park’s nine-furlong Federico Tesio for conditioner Christophe Clement. The bay son of Summer Front closed well under Victor Carrasco from 6 1/2 lengths off the pace to make a four-wide bid and come up 1 1/4 lengths shy of winner Perform. The effort came on the heels of a fourth-out graduation by a half-length going the Peter Pan distance on February 26 at Gulfstream.
Manny Franco picks up the mount from post 4.
Completing the field are a trio of impressive maiden winners in Arcangelo [post 1, Javier Castellano] for conditioner Jena Antonucci; Game Change [post 3, Jose Ortiz] for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey; and the William Morey-trained Asmodeus [post 7, Trevor McCarthy].
The Peter Pan is slated as Race 6 on Saturday’s 11-race card, which co-features the Grade 1, $600,000 Man o’ War in Race 5 and the Grade 3, $175,000 Runhappy in Race 9. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
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