05/12/2011 2:57PM

Belmont Park: Uncle Brent ready for big effort in Peter Pan


ELMONT, N.Y. – One week after the lightly raced and unheralded Animal Kingdom upset the Kentucky Derby, there is an opportunity for another relatively inexperienced and equally unknown 3-year-old to step up and announce his presence as a player in the division.

It could be any one of the 11 horses entered in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes, a race whose field includes six horses not nominated to the Triple Crown series and five whose connections are hopeful of using this 1 1/8-mile race as a stepping-stone to the $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 11.

Stakes winners Adios Charlie, Uncle Brent, and Joe Vann head the list of horses not nominated to the Triple Crown that are deemed major players in the Peter Pan.

Prime Cut, Alternation, Beer Meister, and Isn’t He Perfect are among the group that could land a spot in the Belmont Stakes starting gate with a big effort Saturday.

Uncle Brent and Adios Charlie are both 2 for 3 in their careers and appear to have the most upside. Uncle Brent was purchased privately by Oaklawn Park owner Charles Cella after a sharp debut win sprinting in Arkansas on Feb. 26 and was turned over to Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Lynn Whiting.

In a March 13 allowance race, Uncle Brent finished second when he dropped back to last before making a five-wide run. On April 16, Uncle Brent won the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes with a premature move up the fence into the teeth of a hot pace.

Whiting wasn’t particularly thrilled with either trip his horse had in those two races and has turned to Kentucky Derby-winning rider John Velazquez for the Peter Pan.

“I would like to see him covered up,” Whiting said. “There’s speed outside. If he doesn’t leave there running, he should allow those horses to go on. I think there’ll be enough pace.”

Since winning the Northern Spur on April 16, Uncle Brent has come back with two solid works at Churchill Downs. Uncle Brent is attempting 1 1/8 miles for the first time, but Whiting believes his horse can handle it.

“I think the horse is ready for a forward move,” Whiting said. “He won the stakes at Oaklawn off of two starts, and I think he’s got a forward move in him. We’re there to play the game.”

Adios Charlie, second in his debut last fall before an injury sidelined him, is 2 for 2 this year. He won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream before winning the Grade 2 Jerome, a one-turn mile at Aqueduct, in gritty fashion, after getting passed by Justin Phillip in the stretch.

“Turning for home when one horse went by him and the other horse came up to his inside, I didn’t like what I was seeing,” trainer Stanley Hough said. “When he got into him a little, he came back strong, and you don’t see that too much.”

Like Uncle Brent, Adios Charlie will be attempting 1 1/8 miles for the first time.

“The way he finished his last race and galloped out, I’m hopeful the distance won’t be a problem,” said Hough, whose horse will break from post 8 under Rajiv Maragh.

Prime Cut was under consideration for the Preakness Stakes, but owner Donald Adam and trainer Neil Howard had a change of heart and are now targeting the Belmont, with the Peter Pan their gauge of whether to keep on the Triple Crown trail.

“I feel better about this, I was a little apprehensive about the Preakness,” Howard said. “This seemed like a more common-sense plan for this horse at this time. Doing this is going to keep in line with keeping him moving in the right direction. If we get a good result, maybe it’s not that far out of the conversation to point for the Belmont.”

Prime Cut won a first-level allowance at Fair Grounds on March 23 before finishing second in the Lexington Stakes over Keeneland’s synthetic surface.

Joe Vann, winner of the Illinois Derby, figures to be part of the pace along with the New York-bred Bold Deed.

Alternation, a late-running fifth in the Arkansas Derby; Beer Meister, winner of the Turf Paradise Derby; and Newsdad, fourth in the Blue Grass, figure to be charging late.

The Peter Pan will go as race 9 on a 10-race card and will be the third leg of a late pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $300,000.