ELMONT, N.Y. — Staying true to form, 3-2 favorite Promise Keeper took the nine-furlong Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan on Saturday at Belmont Park by 2 ¼ lengths over a field of four other 3-year-olds in the traditional local prep for the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, the third jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher for a partnership of Woodford Thoroughbreds, WinStar Farm, and Rock Ridge Racing, Promise Keeper has had an up and down start to his career. After finishing a well-beaten fourth in his debut on January 9 at Gulfstream Park, the son of Constitution returned to break his maiden impressively at Gulfstream before finishing last-of-12 in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 6.
Undeterred, Promise Keeper came back with gusto in his last start, a 5 ½-length allowance win going nine furlongs at Keeneland on April 8, and sustained that momentum on Saturday.
Drawn in post 3 following the defection of Klaravich Stables’ Risk Taking from the Peter Pan, who instead will run in next Saturday’s Grade 1 Preakness, Promise Keeper broke well and assumed a stalking position as Wolfie’s Dynaghost went straight to the front.
Second-time starter Wolfie’s Dynaghost set sensible fractions down the expansive Belmont backstretch, carving out an opening quarter-mile in 24.53 seconds and a half in 48.62 on the fast main track as Promise Keeper sat perched just to his outside in second and Nova Rags in third, with the quintet fairly spaced out in the early stages.
The running intensified around the far turn, with three-quarters going in 1:13.20, and it wasn’t long thereafter that Promise Keeper came calling for the lead, which Wolfie’s Dynaghost ceded readily as Nova Rags moved up in kind and Promise Keeper’s stablemate Overtook launched his rally from the back of the pack.
Those three lined up as the field turned for home, but neither pursuer was able to make much headway on Promise Keeper, who dug in fervently on the rail under Luis Saez and dashed to the line comfortably in front, stopping the clock in 1:50.71.
“He’s a big mover and Luis was able to do a perfect job putting him in a stalking position and let him take advantage of the rhythmic stride he has,” said Pletcher. “Luis said he had a lot of horse in the end, so that’s encouraging.
“I thought tactically that Luis rode a smart race and put him into a good spot and got into a good rhythm. When that horse came to him, he found some more and finished up well,” Pletcher added.
With the victory, Promise Keeper increased his earnings to $184,600 and the chestnut sophomore returned $5 even on a $2 win wager.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s Nova Rags continued his string of solid performances in stakes races with his second in the Peter Pan. He won the Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs four starts ago, which preceded a narrow runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa and a fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
The Michael Shanley homebred checked in 1 ½ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Overtook, who was making his first start since the Grade 3 Withers on February 6 at Aqueduct Racetrack, in which he made a belated run to get second. Longshot I Am the Law and Wolfie’s Dynaghost completed the order of finish.
“I thought he ran a great race,” said Junior Alvarado, jockey aboard runner-up Nova Rags. “It was a tricky race with a five-horse field. The winner had a better trip and he kind of drew away from me at the last sixteenth. We know where we are at least with him. He’s a good horse and we’re going to keep trying. Hopefully, we get one sooner than later.”
The Peter Pan invites questions as to who among the field will now target the Belmont Stakes on June 5, and it certainly seems like the connections of the winner are pointing in that direction.
“He’s got a big bouncy, reachy stride and it seems like the further he goes, the better he gets,” Pletcher said of Promise Keeper. “Historically, the Peter Pan has been a good prep for the Belmont. I’ll talk to the connections about it, but that was amongst the discussions leading into this.”
Racing returns on Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 1 p.m. ET highlighted by the $100,000 Gold Fever for 3-year-olds going six furlongs on the main track.
Starting on May 1, Belmont Park re-opened to a limited number of spectators. All admission must be purchased in advance at nyra.com/belmont/tickets/.
For comprehensive information on health and safety protocols in effect for the Belmont Park spring/summer meet, please visit: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/visit/plan-your-visit.
Belmont Park Press Release