05/05/2008 12:00AM

Tomcito using Peter Pan as prep for Belmont

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ELMONT, N.Y. - While many in the racing world will be focusing on the May 17 Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, horse trainer Dante Zanelli Jr. is in a New York state of mind.

Zanelli and his quality 3-year-old Tomcito arrived in New York from Kentucky on Sunday night to begin preparing for the $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 7. That preparation started with a gallop over Belmont's main track on Monday morning, and was to continue with an expected workout here on Tuesday morning before a start in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes.

The Peter Pan, which had been run as close as two weeks out from the Belmont, is now being run four weeks from the third leg of the Triple Crown. That timing and the opportunity to get a feel for the Belmont surface explains why Zanelli brought his horse here so soon. After Tomcito finished sixth in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 19 - meaning he would not have enough graded stakes earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby - there was some discussion about Tomcito simply training up to the Belmont.

"The Peter Pan will give us a run over this track and the horse will have plenty of time to adapt to the track and get comfortable,'' Zanelli said Monday morning "That is the best plan. Instead of coming off a long layoff he can come up to it off a four-week layoff.''

Tomcito was one of four horses that were entered but excluded from the Derby field due to lack of earnings. Zanelli was disappointed both before and after the Derby that his horse couldn't run. After watching the race, Zanelli said he felt Tomcito could have been good enough to be third in the race behind Big Brown and Eight Belles.

In his first start in this country, Tomcito finished third to Big Brown in the Florida Derby. That was also Tomcito's first start in four months, after winning a 1 1/2-mile stakes race in Peru last November. Zanelli ruled out the Preakness because he said he believes "our best chance to beat Big Brown is the Belmont and we'd love to play the spoiler.''

Zanelli said Cornelio Velasquez will replace Jorge Chavez aboard Tomcito for the Peter Pan, contested at 1 1/8 miles around one turn.

As of Monday, a field of eight was likely for the Peter Pan. That includes Casino Drive, who is a half-brother to 2007 Belmont winner Rags to Riches and 2006 Belmont winner Jazil. Casino Drive has run only once, winning a 1 1/8-mile maiden race in Japan on Feb. 23. His stablemate Spark Candle, by A.P. Indy out of the champion Serena's Song, is also expected to start. Others include Cosmic, Deputyville, Lieutenant Ron, and Ready's Echo.

Keep Laughing out; Lieutenant Ron in

The undefeated but untested Lieutenant Ron is now being pointed to Saturday's Peter Pan after stablemate Keep Laughing developed an ankle chip that will keep him out until fall, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Monday.

Lieutenant Ron, who won his first two starts, was also being considered for the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico on the Preakness undercard.

Keep Laughing, a son of Distorted Humor, has won 2 of 3 starts, including a nose decision in the Lafayette Stakes at Keeneland. He was found to have a chip in an ankle over the weekend and was shipped to a farm in Ocala, Fla., where he is to undergo surgery to have it removed.

Lieutenant Ron, a son of Graeme Hall, has won both of his starts impressively, displaying good early speed in both races. McLaughlin said he has been trying to slow him down in the mornings. Last Saturday, Lieutenant Ron worked four furlongs in 50.46 seconds.

Tale of Ekati points to Belmont

Tale of Ekati, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, returned to Belmont Park on Sunday and will be pointed to a possible start in the Belmont Stakes, Robin Smullen, assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg, said Monday.

Tale of Ekati, who won the Grade 2 Futurity over Belmont's main track as a 2-year-old, was beaten 11 lengths by Big Brown in the Derby.

"Barclay was very pleased, I was very pleased, he kept chugging, he wasn't stopping, he kept making up ground every step of the way,'' Smullen said. "Certainly not as fast as Big Brown, but he kept coming and we're real proud of him.''

Smullen said Big Truck, who finished 18th in the Derby, would likely get a freshening and then point to grass races.

"He hasn't had a breather since Saratoga when he broke his maiden,'' Smullen said.

Cowboy Cal bled in Derby

Cowboy Cal bled while finishing ninth in Saturday's Kentucky Derby and will be given some time off, trainer Todd Pletcher said Monday.

Pletcher said Cowboy Cal would get a minimum 45 days off at owner Robert McNair's Stonerside Farm in Kentucky and perhaps return to the races in late summer or fall.

"We made a decision to try the big Derby instead of the Virginia Derby, now we'll try and do the right thing by him and give him some time, let him gain some weight,'' Pletcher said. "He's a nice horse who handles three different surfaces.''

Pletcher said Monba, who finished last in the Derby, came out of the race in good order but would not likely run before the Dwyer Stakes on July 6. Monba shipped back to New York on Sunday.

Pletcher said that Game Face, who won Saturday's La Troienne, would be pointed to the Grade 1 Acorn here on June 7. Zaftig, who won Saturday's Nassau County at Belmont, is also under consideration for that race as is Northern Netti, the New York-bred filly who won Sunday's Bouwerie Stakes.