PETER PAN STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 1 1/8 MILES
His development slowed by a lung infection, Tonalist showed he can be a major contender in the Belmont Stakes next month when he crushed the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes May 10 on a sloppy track at Belmont Park.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, 6-5 choice Tonalist went for an early move up the backstretch in the one-turn Peter Pan, taking command over early pacesetter Fabulous Kid, and was never seriously threatened. Robert S. Evan's smooth-striding Tapit colt, racing a couple of paths off the rail, splashed clear in the drive to win by four lengths in a time of 1:48.30 for 1 ⅛ miles on a sealed track.
The Christophe Clement-trained Tonalist overcame a bad start to defeat six other late-developing 3-year-olds in his stakes debut. Commissioner was second, 2 ¼ lengths in front of Irish You Well.
Tonalist broke his maiden in his second start Jan. 18 going 1 ⅛ miles impressively by four lengths at Gulfstream Park. He was second in his next start at Gulfstream, a classy allowance/optional claiming event at 1 1/16 miles that was won by eventual Besilu Stables Florida Derby winner Constitution.
Training for the Twinspires.com Wood Memorial Stakes, Tonalist came down with a lung infection following a five-furlong breeze March 27 at Payson Park. The bay colt returned to the work tab April 17 at Payson, then demonstrated his readiness in a bullet five-furlong breeze in 1:00 flat at Belmont May 4.
Clement said he wasn't concerned with Tonalist's slow break.
"You could see he was striding very well," the trainer said. "What impressed me was the last eighth of a mile, when he opened up again. I thought he was fit. I was very worried about the wet track. I don't breeze my horses on the wet track so that was a complete question mark. He answered that pretty nicely.
"Let's see how the horse comes out of it, but of course we have to think about the Belmont Stakes [June 7]. We're New York people and we're at Belmont."
Tonalist broke fifth after he lost his footing at the start, but hustled into second on the inside of Fabulous Kid after a slow opening quarter in :23.79 seconds. He swept right past Fabulous Kid while in hand, getting the half in :46.83 seconds, and widened his advantage rounding the turn as he completed six furlongs in 1:10.89.
Repelling a mild challenge from Commissioner, Tonalist kicked away in the stretch to lead by 3 ½ lengths and came home nicely in hand for Rosario.
Rosario said Tonalist was unprepared at the break.
"From there, I just had to tap him a little bit and he just took me all the way," the jockey said. "He was doing it easy; he was doing it on his own. I don't think we were going that fast. He can go a mile and a half; I think he can run all day. He's a big horse with a long stride, when you get him in the bridle, the more you ask, the more he'll give."
Commissioner was second best under Javier Castellano, while Irish You Well and Irad Ortiz Jr. edged Matterhorn for third by a head. Tapicero was next, followed by Calder Derby winner Our Caravan, the second choice at 3-1. Fabulous Kid was eased at the quarter pole.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said WinStar Farm homebred Commissioner would point for the Belmont Stakes.
"I think so. We certainly feel he would handle the distance of a mile and a half," Pletcher said. "We'll see how he comes out of it, but talking to Elliot [Walden, WinStar president and CEO] initially after the race we'd be inclined to go to the Belmont if he's doing well."
Bred in Kentucky by Woodslane Farm out of the winning mare Settling Mist, by 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, who ran third in the Belmont Stakes.
Tonalist earned $120,000 for his second win in four lifetime starts, boosting his career bankroll to $157,000.
The 6-5 pick carried 117 pounds and paid $4.40, $2.70, and $2.30, keying a $15.40 exacta. Third choice Commissioner, rebounding from a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher, returned $3.70 and $2.40. Irish You Well paid $3.90.