05/28/2002 12:00AM

Fresh, happy, and dangerous


ELMONT, N.Y. - When Sunday Break was forced to miss the Kentucky Derby because of insufficient earnings in graded stakes, his people were disappointed. Chances are they feel differently now, in the wake of his impressive victory in Saturday's $200,000 Peter Pan for 3-year-olds.

They have a fresh and happy horse for the Belmont Stakes, one who should show improvement off his latest effort, just as he improved from race to race all spring. In retrospect, had he run in the Derby, it doesn't seem likely he could at that time have beaten the dynamic War Emblem, and he would have come out of the race with his physical resources considerably depleted.

Now he'll go into the Belmont in the best shape and form of his career. Will that be good enough to win? That remains to be seen, but as the third leg of the Triple Crown approaches on June 8, there is an element of uncertainty in the air.

In winning the nine-furlong Peter Pan in a sprightly 1:48.10, Sunday Break put on a seminar. A Japanese-bred Forty Niner colt, trained by Neil Drysdale, he rated beautifully off the pace for Gary Stevens through the first six furlongs. Then he took charge and repulsed all challenges without use of the whip. It was not a draining effort and one that can only benefit Sunday Break.

"I thought he was very impressive," Stevens commented. "He gave a very professional performance. I expect him to move forward from the Peter Pan and I'm very excited about his future. He's been moving forward all spring and that's all you can ask."

Another Peter Pan colt to show to good advantage Saturday was Puzzlement. Unraced at 2 and with limited experience of four starts, he raced well off the early pace and finished strongly under the veteran Jean-Luc Samyn. He, too, should benefit from his first stakes appearance, though there is some question if he has yet to catch up with War Emblem.

Only one Peter Pan winner in the last 10 years has gone on to win the Belmont. It was A.P. Indy, trained by Neil Drysdale.

Drysdale is a man of great patience who is always willing to wait for favorable circumstances, and the results speak for themselves.