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Animal Kingdom and the Triple Crown picture

AKIn a 3-year-old crop plagued with inconsistency, it should be no surprise that the winner of the Kentucky Derby was a 20-1 shot. Half of the morning line was going off at odds of 30-1, after all; but what to make of the Derby winner, Animal Kingdom? 

For all of you who actually bet on him, rejoice in watching me eat crow; I admit I was prejudiced against Animal Kingdom because of his lack of starts over conventional dirt, no matter how good he looked training at Churchill the week leading up to the Derby. I had my reasons to doubt him, but obviously, he was peaking at the right moment and has done nothing wrong on this wild ride to Louisville. Now that he’s won the highest honor of any 3-year-old race horse, the question is, can he win the Triple Crown?

Coming into the Derby off a six-week layoff, Animal Kingdom was the freshest horse in the race. His come-from-behind victory in Turfway Park’s Spiral Stakes was a nice one, but his brief duel against Decisive Moment in the stretch didn’t drop any hints that this was going to be the horse wearing the roses in May. So will the Derby winner bounce in the Preakness, or will his freshness carry over in Pimlico? A flock of new shooters are heading his way, and should he pass that test and go on to Belmont, he will certainly face even more fresh faces.

Some of those horses who are already shining their shoes for the Belmont Stakes will be running this weekend in its traditional prep race, the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes. The horses who exit the Peter Pan and opt to make their next start in the Belmont will benefit from having skipped the grueling Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, so here’s a chance to see where they will stack up against those starters.

Eleven horses will line up for the Peter Pan, including Adios Charlie, Uncle Brent, Joe Vann, Monzon, and Alternation. The deserving favorite will likely be Adios Charlie, winner of 2-for-2 this year, including the Grade II Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, where he defeated Astrology and Justin Phillip. Adios Charlie looked beaten going into the turn of the 1-mile race, with Justin Phillip taking over the lead, but the game colt re-rallied in the final strides of the stretch and tackled his opponent to win by daylight. Adios Charlie has never run the distance of the Peter Pan, but he’s never been worse than 2nd, and looks like he could be something special.

Joe VannUncle Brent, with a record of 2 wins in 3 starts, will be guided by Kentucky Derby-winning jockey John Velazquez in his bid for his first stakes victory. The winner of the Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn Park has also never gone further than 1 mile, but has little to dislike on his record and could be a nice late-blooming colt.

My sentimental pick in the Peter Pan is Joe Vann, winner of the Grade III Illinois Derby. Unlike many of the starters in this race, Joe Vann has the benefit of having run the Peter Pan’s distance of 1 1/8-miles, and is in the middle of a 3-race win streak. He will likely be pressing the pace or on the lead; and as it never hurts to have Todd Pletcher as your backer, he’s worth taking a chance with here.

The outcome of the Peter Pan will help define the complexion of this 3-year-old crop. It’s not a stretch to say we will probably never see the faces of some of these Derby horses again, so there is still plenty of time to choose a late-blooming horse to ride into the summer stakes. Animal Kingdom should find plenty of competition going into Pimlico, and some of his Belmont opposition should be revealed this Saturday.  


The Grade II Peter Pan Stakes will be broadcast live from Belmont Park on TVG and HRTV this Saturday at approximately 5:16pm ET.

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