Nine entered in Peter Pan on Saratoga's opening day

Jul 14, 2020 Kellie Reilly/

The Road to the Kentucky Derby takes a first-ever detour through Saratoga on its Thursday opener, with the $100,000 Peter Pan Stakes (G3) offering points on a 50-20-10-5 basis to the respective top four.

Adding to the novelty, the Peter Pan has been transplanted from its traditional spot at Belmont Park. Historically, the 1 1/8-mile feature has served as the major local prep for the Belmont S. (G1).

But in the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peter Pan was shifted a couple of months later and moved north to upstate New York. Now it's taking on a dual role as a scoring race toward the postponed Kentucky Derby (G1) on Sept. 5, and a stepping stone to the Aug. 8 Travers (G1) at the Spa. The Travers, long known as the 'Midsummer Derby,' for once precedes the Kentucky Derby, and ranks as a major points race itself worth 100 points to the winner.

One Peter Pan entrant, Modernist, competed in the Belmont but didn't put his best foot forward when seventh behind Tiz the Law. The Bill Mott trainee could never find his rhythm in that one-turn race and figures to appreciate getting back around two turns here. Third in the Louisiana Derby (G2) two starts back, the well-bred son of Uncle Mo scored his stakes win in the second Risen Star (G2) division at Fair Grounds Feb. 15. Junior Alvarado retains the mount.

Modernist has also been under consideration for Saturday's Haskell (G1) at Monmouth, as has another blueblood, Mystic Guide. Trained by Mike Stidham for Godolphin, Mystic Guide stretched out from a promising debut in a sprint to romp in a Fair Grounds maiden. The son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Music Note was entered in the May 23 Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs, but scratched. Connections preferred to take the more conservative path in an allowance.

That June 4 allowance at Belmont turned out to be more challenging than it looked on paper, and not just because Mystic Guide was reverting to one turn. He encountered a rival running the race of his life in Tap It to Win, who wired the field in near track-record time. In the circumstances, Mystic Guide did well to stay on in a clear second. He can move forward here on the step up in distance with new rider Jose Ortiz.

Country Grammer, third in the same allowance behind Tap It to Win and Mystic Guide, is another eligible to be happier in these conditions. From the first crop of 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist, Country Grammer was a convincing Aqueduct maiden winner last fall in his only try at the 1 1/8-mile distance. The Chad Brown pupil was a better-than-appears fifth in the Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth (G2) in his stakes debut, another race that didn't play to his strengths, and he might have needed that allowance off the three-month break. Irad Ortiz rides for the first time since the maiden win.

The Todd Pletcher-trained Candy Tycoon, a distant second in the Fountain of Youth and sixth in the Florida Derby (G1), was runner-up in an Oaklawn allowance May 2. That result has worked out well since the winner, Rushie, has gone on to place third in both the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Blue Grass (G2). Katzerelli, fifth in the same Oaklawn allowance, aims to spring the upset like another Tom Amoss trainee who graduated from the claiming ranks – Ohio Derby (G3) scorer Dean Martini.

Celtic Striker was entered in the Ohio Derby, but stayed home at Belmont instead and crushed the Easy Goer in front-running fashion. His task was immeasurably eased by the fact that he had just one rival left after a flurry of scratches – Sonneman, who simply wasn't fast enough to press and ended up retreating from sight. Unplaced in his other stakes tries in the Jan. 1 Jerome, Mar. 7 Gotham (G3), and the Matt Winn, Celtic Striker will have to prove if he's turned over a new leaf or merely capitalized on a one-sided situation.

The speedy Caracaro can keep him honest. The Uncle Mo colt appeared on the verge of joining the Derby trail over the winter after a six-length maiden conquest at Gulfstream Park, but was sidelined. Now Caracaro resurfaces from a six-month layoff for trainer Gustavo Delgado, while making his stakes and two-turn debut. Mo Hawk, a $925,000 son of Uncle Mo and unbeaten Sunland Park Oaks winner Princess Arabella, just captured a turf allowance at Indiana Grand for Rodolphe Brisset. Previously with Bob Baffert, he'd won one of three sprinting on the dirt in Southern California.

Chestertown, a $2 million Tapit colt out of multiple Grade 1 vixen Artemis Agrotera, adds blinkers in hopes of improvement. The Steve Asmussen sophomore was eighth in the Louisiana Derby in his only stakes attempt, but book-ended that with a pair of useful allowance seconds. 

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