Updated on 09/18/2011 12:24AM

Strong Contender: The name fits

Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
Strong Contender, here winning his 2006 bow, was third in the Peter Pan.

ELMONT, N.Y. - John Ward believes he will know just where he stands with his talented colt following Tuesday's renewal of the Grade 2, $150,000 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park.

Strong Contender finished third in the Peter Pan Stakes 45 days ago over a dry Belmont track that Ward didn't think he handled. Since then, Strong Contender has given Ward every reason to believe he's ready to return to peak form.

"I make no excuses for him, he's a dead-fit horse,'' Ward said. "He'll go out there with a top rider on him. Handicappers of America will find out just like me."

Edgar Prado will ride Strong Contender in the Dwyer.

Strong Contender will meet five rivals hoping to make an impact in the 3-year-old division in the second half of the year. Last year's Dwyer winner, Roman Ruler, came back to win the Grade 1 Haskell, while the 2005 Dwyer runner-up, Flower Alley, won the Jim Dandy and Travers and was second in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

After being sidelined following a debut win last summer, Strong Contender made a smashing 3-year-old debut in an allowance race at Gulfstream in February. Circumstances forced Ward to run Strong Contender in the Blue Grass off a two-month layoff, and he finished a well-beaten third to Sinister Minister. In the Peter Pan, Strong Contender raced with the pace before fading to third behind Sunriver and Lewis Michael.

"He seems to be a better horse on a harder racetrack, and that racetrack was drying out the other day," Ward said. "They just hadn't put any water on it."

Bob Baffert will be seeking his second straight Dwyer victory when he saddles , who has not run since winning the nine-furlong Snow Chief Stakes for California breds by 5 1/2 lengths on April 30. Baffert said Da Stoops suffered a case of colic the day after that race and missed some training time. He has been working steadily since the end of May.

"I want to see how he's going to handle the Eastern tracks," Baffert said. "At Del Mar, you might as well turn your 3-year-olds out because there's no place to run them. The Dwyer is a very important race."

is unbeaten in three starts around one turn, and he looms as the one to catch. He is coming off a last-place finish after setting the pace in the Kentucky Derby. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he is concerned about getting hooked in an early duel with Da Stoops.

Trainer Nick Zito is hoping Doc Cheney can repeat his Withers effort, when he finished second to subsequent Preakness winner Bernardini. Zito will also send out Regent Spirit, a recent first-level allowance winner here.

Dontfearthereaper completes the field.