Racing Roundtable: Peter Pan Stakes, Preakness date debate, and more

May 14th, 2024

This week, the Racing Roundtable debates the chances of Peter Pan (G3) winner Antiquarian in the Belmont (G1) and whether the Preakness (G1) should finally change dates. Then the panel closes out with a discussion of the performances that caught their eye over the weekend.

What are your takeaways from the Peter Pan?

James Scully: Last seen finishing sixth in the Louisiana Derby (G2), Antiquarian flattered the Fair Grounds prep races when bouncing back to win the Peter Pan (G2) by about a length. And he established himself as an intriguing player for the Belmont S. (G1) on June 8. A maiden scorer in mid-February, Antiquarian experienced a rough trip when making his stakes debut in the Louisiana Derby. 

“We had a horrible trip (last time) – he hit the gate really bad and dragged me for a sixteenth of a mile, then we broke slow and got squeezed a little bit,” jockey John Velazquez said. “We went wide at the three-eighths pole – that was a rough trip for him. Today, everything was clean.” 

Antiquarian will need to keep improving his Brisnet Speed ratings moving forward, but the up-and-coming colt exits an encouraging win in the Peter Pan.

Vance Hanson: On better behavior than he was in his last start, when he broke through the gate before finishing sixth in the Louisiana Derby, Antiquarian rebounded nicely in the Peter Pan. However, it wasn't an especially fast effort, and he'd seemingly need significant improvement to be in the Belmont frame. Given the third leg of the Triple Crown will be run at a reduced distance of 1 1/4 miles this year, it figures to be a deeper cast than usual, particularly with probable favorite Sierra Leone and fellow Todd Pletcher trainee Fierceness. For what it's worth, none of Pletcher's four previous Belmont winners prepped in the Peter Pan.

Ashley Anderson: Antiquarian is now 2-for-4 for his career and earned his first graded stakes victory on Saturday while facing five rivals. However, with the scratch of Tuscan Gold, who will now compete in this Saturday's Preakness S., the Todd Pletcher runner had an easier route to victory. The Wine Steward was a vulnerable favorite who has yet to win in three tries since stretching out beyond sprint distances. The Vino Rosso colt had the lead in the stretch before Antiquarian rallied late to get up by three-quarters of a length, and the son of Preservationist has the closing kick to succeed at the 1 1/4-mile distance of this year's Belmont at Saratoga. Nonetheless, there are other runners pointed toward the third leg of the Triple Crown who I give better chances. Stablemate Fierceness is likely to show up in the Belmont, and Kentucky Derby runner-up Sierra Leone will be a big chance should he race in the June classic.

Should we consider moving the date of the Preakness in light of the lack of participation from many of the Kentucky Derby runners?

JS: I don’t like short fields in the Preakness, it was unfortunate to see only seven horses in the starting gate last year, but business remains strong for the second leg of the Triple Crown due its timing (two weeks after the Kentucky Derby). Preakness Day did more than $100 million in handle in 2023, Pimlico cards a total of 15 stakes on Friday and Saturday of Preakness weekend, and there is no financial incentive to move the dates of their stakes.

Pimlico would face more competition and make less money by lengthening the time between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The New York Racing Association would also face negative consequences, generating lesser handle by moving the date back of the Belmont (G1).

I also think the Preakness remains an option for most horsemen. Todd Pletcher is an exception, a major exception considering he has started a record 64 horses in the Kentucky Derby and has zero interest in pursuing the second leg of the Triple Crown with any horse he ever trains unless it wins the Kentucky Derby. But most trainers aren’t geared that way.

Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas have won a combined 14 editions of the race, both horsemen have spoken about the Preakness being the easiest of the Triple Crown races to win. Brad Cox began competing in Triple Crown races this decade, his first Kentucky Derby starter came in 2021, and Cox has entered Catching Freedom in the Preakness following a fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

A winner of two Triple Crown races, Cox will need to win multiple runnings of the Preakness to make a run at Bob Baffert's record for most Triple Crown race wins (18). And I wouldn't count him out. Cox spoke recently about the importance of the Preakness, how the Triple Crown matters more than other important races.

Steve Asmussen, Mark Casse, Kenny McPeek, Dale Romans and other top horsemen aren’t afraid to run a Kentucky Derby runner back in the Preakness. Chad Brown even ran Good Magic back in 2018. The Preakness remains relevant in its current format.

VH: We no longer seem able to breed horses that can run two races in two weeks, much less three races in five. And we also don't seem able to produce trainers who have the skill and craft to overcome that obstacle. What this means is that the Triple Crown is becoming increasingly unmarketable, as a series, due to a drastically reduced continuity among the three races in terms of its participants. And the Preakness is becoming increasing unmarketable, as a classic, if fewer are treating it as such.

This is not to say the date of the Preakness (or the Belmont Stakes, for that matter) should be adjusted. Both of those races work financially, from an attendance and handle perspective, where they are on the calendar. They actually might do worse if one or both were moved. However, there are too many races in this ecosystem. It's evident that the horsemen with the stock are preferring to target a combination of races that doesn't include the Preakness because it doesn't square with what they perceive their horses' physical abilities are, nor their inflexible training methods. The result of these actions is that the Preakness is being increasingly squeezed out of this ecosystem.

The American Triple Crown seems well on its way to becoming like its British equivalent. Thankfully, the dates and distances of the 2000 Guineas (G1), Epsom Derby (G1), and St Leger (G1) have not changed, but it is a largely anachronistic series as few if any horses are capable of excelling over one mile, 1 1/2 miles, and 1 3/4 miles. We shouldn't pander to those who think we need to keep the American Triple Crown "relevant" by changing it. Instead, we should either go back to producing horses and training them like we used to, or accept the Triple Crown as a relic that's still there but not of great importance anymore.

AA: While the sport of horse racing is rooted in tradition, the recent quality of competition in the Preakness has me open to change. This year, Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan will re-oppose just two rivals from the first leg of the Triple Crown — Derby fourth-place finisher Catching Freedom and Just Steel, who was 17th in the Run for the Roses. While Mystik Dan is a 5-2 morning line choice for the Preakness, he outran his odds at 18-1 in the Derby and the likelihood of him winning again off two weeks of rest is slim to me. We've seen just three of the last six Kentucky Derby winners return to race in the Preakness, and new shooters have won the last four editions.

The suggestion of moving the Preakness to Memorial Day and pushing the Belmont S. to the first weekend in July would also not be the worst idea from a health and safety perspective of the horses. Traditionalists will scoff at the idea, but this year's Belmont is already balking tradition by cutting down to the distance of 10 furlongs because of the temporary relocation of the race to Saratoga. And the current order of the Triple Crown did not take shape until 1932, after Sir Barton and Gallant Fox already claimed Triple Crown titles.

We've seen baseball recently tinker with tradition, the NFL is constantly looking to make changes, and so is the NBA. Why shouldn't horse racing be open to adjustment as well?

What else caught your eye over the weekend?

JS: Handicappers who took note of the Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar in early December have had the opportunity to make money in 2024. Program Trading stepped forward with a huge performance that day, signaling bigger and better things to come as a four-year-old this season, and Silver Knott turned in a strong performance on the lead, grudgingly giving way to be a good third.

It turned out to be the best race for three-year-old turf horses in 2023, and Program Trading and Silver Knott have gone on to make a mark by winning all three combined starts over graded stakes foes.

Program Trading is the crème of the crop, the top American-based turf horse, and loved his comeback win over a strong field in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1). I will look to play Program Trading in every race moving forward until he loses. 

Silver Knott has made nice scores for me in the Elkhorn (G2) and Man o’ War (G2) this year, and if he’s not facing Program Trading, the gelding will take some beating in future engagements.

Program Trading and Silver Knott will be targeting longer turf races, while Master of the Seas focuses on mile events.

VH: On a more somber note, I want to pay tribute to a highly promising three-year-old colt for Godolphin named Hidden Law, who was tragically lost on the gallop out moments after he impressively captured the Chester Vase (G3) last Wednesday. After narrowly losing his debut on the all-weather in late March, Hidden Law had impressively won his next two starts on turf by a combined 8 1/2 lengths, with his margin of victory at Chester being a widening three lengths. The son of Dubawi and multiple classic-placed Secret Gesture probably would have been a major contender, if not a market leader, for next month's Epsom Derby, but a misstep dashed hopes for that and potentially a lot more. 

AA: Just like James, Silver Knott's performance in the Man o' War S. was the highlight for me from the weekend. The Charlie Appleby runner is now 2-for-2 in 2024 and has defeated heavily favored stablemates in his last two — first it was Bold Act in the Elkhorn (G2) and most recently it was Nations Pride in the Man o' War. This time around, Silver Knott improved his Brisnet Speed figure to a career-best 101 and earned a 121 Class Rating. He impressed in his U.S. debut at Keeneland in 2022, when he was beaten a nose in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) but struggled as a three-year-old, going 0-for-6. He was gelded heading into the year and has stepped forward as a four-year-old, proving he should be far more respected at the betting windows as he continues racing this season.