05/08/2008 12:00AM

Golden Spikes inherits lead role

Four-Footed Fotos
Golden Spikes, shown running second to Recapturetheglory in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 5, might well go off favored in Saturday's Peter Pan, thanks in part to the defection of Lieutenant Ron.

ELMONT, N.Y. - A foot injury suffered by the exciting 3-year-old Lieutenant Ron has removed the favorite from Saturday's $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park and turned the Grade 2 event into a wide-open affair.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Thursday that Lieutenant Ron, an impressive winner of his first two starts, pulled up "a little bit funny" from a Wednesday morning gallop. Thus far, X-rays and an ultrasound have not revealed anything serious and McLaughlin is hoping it's just a bruised foot.

Lieutenant Ron's defection left a field of nine for the Peter Pan, which at 1 1/8 miles is the local prep for the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, to be run on June 7. Aside from Casino Drive - a half-brother to recent Belmont Stakes winners Jazil and Rags to Riches - and Tomcito, it is unclear if any of the others in the race have the Belmont in their sights.

Peter Pan favoritism could fall to Golden Spikes, who comes off a second-place finish in the Illinois Derby, which produced Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Denis of Cork and fifth-place finisher Recapturetheglory.

Golden Spikes was beaten four lengths by Recapturetheglory in Illinois, stalking him the entire trip under Timothy Thornton but failing to get by him in the stretch. He finished three-quarters of a length ahead of Z Humor.

"I think we thought the horse was going to come back to us so we sat back," trainer Marty Wolfson said from south Florida. "We moved to him at the quarter pole and he had another gear."

Wolfson had removed the blinkers from Golden Spikes prior to the Illinois Derby.

"His works were super good without them," Wolfson said. "I put a shadow roll on, which keeps him focused."

Wolfson said he likes the one-turn configuration of the Peter Pan for Golden Spikes, who figures to be on or near lead under Edgar Prado.

"The long run down the backside is so good for a horse like him," Wolfson said. "He's got a beautiful way of going and he can click off those" 12-second furlongs.

Trainer Shug McGaughey, who won the Peter Pan last year with Sightseeing, sends out Cosmic in this year's edition. Cosmic is a son of El Prado out of the multiple Grade 1-winning dam Heavenly Prize. Cosmic won a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on Feb. 24 at Gulfstream, but didn't run back until April 16 when he won a first-level allowance race, also at 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct by a neck.

"He just didn't need to run back that quick," McGaughey said about the time between starts. "He got a little hot when he won and I thought if I go on with him I'm going to make a mistake, so I didn't go on with him and I'm glad I didn't. I thought he really acted well at Aqueduct and he's trained well since then."

Cosmic will break from post 8 under Javier Castellano.

Tomcito, a Kentucky-bred son of Street Cry, won 4 of 5 starts in Peru before shipping to North America. He finished third to Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown in the Florida Derby before finishing sixth in the Lexington Stakes over Keeneland's Polytrack. Trainer Dante Zanelli believes his horse is a natural fit for the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont Stakes and is using the Peter Pan to get a run over the track.

"We felt like the big, sweeping turns and the way Belmont is made up it's more for him," Zanelli said.

Casino Drive is making his North American debut and first start since winning a maiden race in Japan on Feb. 23. His connections said earlier this week that Casino Drive is using this race as a stepping-stone to the Belmont. Kent Desormeaux rides from the rail.

Casino Drive's entrymate Spark Candle is making his first start since December and appears to be better suited to turf. He will be wearing blinkers for the first time.

Ready's Echo, beaten a neck in a first-level allowance at Keeneland, and Mint Lane and Deputyville, the second- and third-place finishers from the Federico Tesio, round out the field.