Sunriver strikes late in Peter Pan, eyes Belmont
Aaron and Marie Jones' homebred SUNRIVER (Saint Ballado) traveled the widest of all but it would not deter him, as the talented three-year-old gutted out a neck victory in the $200,000 Peter Pan S. (G2) at Belmont Park on Saturday. Lewis Michael (Rahy) held a short lead after four furlongs in a tepid :48 and six furlongs in 1:12 3/5. After fighting off a challenge from Strong Contender (Maria's Mon) on the turn, Lewis Michael set sail for the wire, opening up by 2 1/2 lengths through the mile in 1:37 1/5, but Sunriver was just kicking into high gear. Although the leader kept on resolutely, he could not keep Sunriver from passing him in the shadow of the wire. The winner, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, completed nine furlongs over the fast track in 1:49 1/5 and paid $4.50, $3 and $2.30 as the 6-5 favorite.
"I was trying to put him in the best spot I could," Bejarano said. "I knew this horse was going to run. At the quarter-pole, he switched his lead and I knew I had a lot of horse. This horse really finished strong."
"I was a little worried down the backside; they were going as slow as they were," Pletcher said. "Sunriver kept coming and finished up big. It looked like he still had something left at the end. (Sunriver) is a pretty kind horse. You can do whatever you want with him."
Lewis Michael turned in a very good runner-up performance. Sent off at 13-1, the second-placer was worth $8.30 and $4.70 while completing the $32 exacta. Strong Contender looked like he would have a say in the outcome turning for home but flattened out quickly and settled for the show, 3 1/4 lengths farther behind. The 2-1 second choice was good for $2.90 while rounding off the $109.50 trifecta. Hesanoldsalt (Broad Brush) sat on the bottom of the $642 superfecta (2-5-7-4) at 24-1 and was trailed by Ice N Lemon (Acceptable), Harborage (Monarchos), Testimony (Yes It's True), Really Indian (A.P. Indy) and Scanlon's Song (Partner's Hero).
Sunriver, who just missed drawing into the Kentucky Derby (G1) field after falling shy on the graded earnings list, proved his worth with this solid performance. The colt moved his mark to 7-3-2-1 with earnings of $281,400. In his prior outing, he finished a good third in the Florida Derby (G1).
The winner was bred in the Bluegrass State and produced from the stakes-winning and Grade 3-placed Goulash (Mari's Book). Sunriver was preceded in stakes glory by his full sister, twice champion Ashado, a seven-time Grade 1-winning earner of $3,931,440, as well as his full brother Saint Stephen, who just scored in the April 29 Henry S. Clark S. at Pimlico. Goulash has also produced an unraced two-year-old colt named Turbulent Storm (Storm Creek), an unnamed yearling colt by Unbridled's Song and a 2006 filly by Forestry.
Pletcher said that the June 10 Belmont S. (G1) is a "possibility," pending discussion with the owners.
Lewis Michael could also take his chance in the 1 1/2-mile classic, according to trainer Wayne Catalano.
"We were trying to see if he is a dirt horse," Catalano said about his turf stakes-winning charge, "and I think he answered that question today. The plan was that if he ran well here, he would run in the Belmont," the trainer explained, adding that he would speak with owner Frank Calabrese regarding his Belmont status.
Third-place Strong Contender is unlikely to take that next step, conditioner John Ward said after the race.
"The winner deserves a lot of credit," Ward said. "He should have been in the Kentucky Derby. My horse is still a baby."
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