05/25/2005 11:00PM

Peter Pan not the place to find Belmont winner

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photos
Old Forester wins the Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park in course-record time.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Is the Belmont Stakes winner running in Saturday's Peter Pan Stakes? Often that's a valid question, because since 1992 the 1 1/8-mile has been a successful stepping-stone to the Belmont for A.P. Indy, Colonial Affair, and Lemon Drop Kid.

But this year's renewal of the Peter Pan appears to have come up light. Unless someone takes a significant step forward, making a case for any of this year's Peter Pan entrants two weeks down the road is a stretch. The only stakes winner in the field is Robador, who, as a maiden, won a stakes for California-breds at 23-1 last month at Hollywood Park. That race fell apart. "The Snow Chief Stakes was a mess," wrote Steve Andersen in DRF Simulcast Weekly. "Several riders contested the early lead, leaving themselves vulnerable to a late run . . ."

Indeed, the final three-eighths of a mile were run in a laborious 39 seconds and Robador capitalized to get up in deep stretch as the least-slow runner.

Discounting that apparently fluky result, the most accomplished member of the Peter Pan field, with two allowance victories, is Mr Sword, who has since been tried and found wanting in stakes company. He looked home free in midstretch of the Lanes End before faltering to third, and most recently finished last by 21 lengths in the Blue Grass.

Otherwise, the Peter Pan is essentially a second-level allowance, except for the fact that the purse is $200,000 and it bestows Grade 2 status to the winner.

The morning-line favorite is Chekhov, a $3.3 million purchase as a 2-year-old who powered to a visually impressive maiden win when returned from a three-month layoff here opening weekend.

Chekhov is full of promise and potential, and though his 1 1/16-mile maiden win in 1:41.35 received a solid Beyer Speed Figure of 93, that number is only good enough to make him one of several contenders in the Peter Pan. An hour after Chekhov's race, Reverberate ran the same distance in 1:41.29 to win a preliminary allowance route with a 94 Beyer, and did so while arguing faster fractions than Chekhov's maiden race.

The field also includes Golden Man, an allowance winner with a 99 Beyer first time off the claim by trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., and Oratory, coming off paired Beyers of 93.

But the speed-figure standout is Sir Greeley, who was gelded after being soundly beaten twice in January, and returned April 6 in a lowly $25,000 maiden-claiming mile at Aqueduct. The track was fast that day, so Sir Greeley's time of 1:34.86 was good for a Beyer of only 83, but he did it so easily that trainer Jimmy Jerkens ran him back just eight days later in allowance company at the same distance. Despite neglecting to change leads in the stretch, Sir Greeley won just as easily, and had folks checking their stopwatches. His time of 1:34.19 would stand up as the fastest of 91 mile races out of the chute at the spring meet, and his Beyer of 106 was outdone by only one other performance by a 3-year-old, Bellamy Road's 120 in the Wood Memorial.

Tried on the Widener turf course at a mile last out, Sir Greeley was beaten in a photo in a second-level allowance race that went in 1:33.30, the fastest of nine turf races at the distance at the meet by .65 seconds. Besides showing considerable gameness, he changed leads right on cue entering the stretch, which bodes well for him in the stretch to 1 1/8 miles in the Peter Pan.

Sunday's Jaipur Stakes, scheduled for seven furlongs on the Widener turf, appears to boil down to Old Forester and Gulch Approval, the one-two finishers in the Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park two months ago.

Old Forester set a course record of 1:38.20 for the 1 1/16 miles that day, and won twice on the Widener turf last year, posting his two best Beyers of the season.

Gulch Approval also likes this course. His two Widener starts in 2004 resulted in a 19-1 upset going seven furlongs on Belmont Stakes Day, and a third-place finish in the Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap with a career best Beyer of 105.

The Met Mile on Memorial Day will be a showdown between Ghostzapper, the reigning Horse of the Year, and Forest Danger, whose two starts this year were a front-running allowance win with a Beyer of 118 and an off-the-pace win in the Carter Handicap with a 115.

This may be the time to get Ghostzapper, who could be vulnerable first time out since the Breeders' Cup Classic. Then again, Ghostzapper was in a similar layoff situation when he made his 4-year-old debut here last July 4, and all he did was win the Tom Fool under a hand ride with a Beyer of 120.