Thursday, May 07, 2009


ELMONT, N.Y. – Gerald Procino has been away a long time. Now, he has taken an even longer road back home to New York.

Procino, who turns 68 on May 25, is a native of Yonkers, N.Y. He started off exercising Thoroughbreds, became a successful standardbred trainer, moved to Florida to train Thoroughbreds in the 1990s and now is back at Belmont Park on Saturday, where he will saddle Stately Character in the 56th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan for three-year-olds at nine furlongs. The Peter Pan (race 9, 5:17 p.m.) will be the third leg of Belmont Park’s brand new guaranteed $350,000 Late Pick 4 (races 7-10).

“I had planned to bring him up here all along,” Procino said of Stately Character, a son of Pleasant Tap-London Valley, by Fast Play. “He’s a big, strong horse and Belmont should suit him with its big turns. I’m hoping this race will get us to the Belmont Stakes (June 6) because I think he will love a mile and a half.”

It also didn’t hurt Procino’s schedule that Mine That Bird jumped up to win the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 last Saturday at Churchill Downs, opening the door for new shooters in key division races. Stately Character ran fourth in the Grade 1, nine-furlong Florida Derby, finishing 10 ¼ lengths behind a track-record performance by Quality Road (1:47.72) with Dunkirk second. Quality Road had to skip the Kentucky Derby when a right front quarter crack failed to mend on time. Dunkirk, a $3.7 million yearling, ran 11th.

“His last race was the Florida Derby, and the track that day was a speed-favoring track that wasn’t good for anybody but Quality Road,” Procino said. “A horse like my horse, a deep closer, had no chance. But my horse has been up here at Belmont and he has been training well. I’ve breezed him twice and he has never been a good work horse. He’s never going to run fast in the mornings, but he doesn’t need it.”

Procino is counting on his experience to get the job done on Saturday, and ultimately, in the $1 million, 1½-mile Belmont Stakes.

“I actually started out at Belmont Park back in 1959-’60,” he said. “I exercised horses for

Elmendorf (Farm) and Casey Hayes (trainer of Hill Prince), but that was long ago. I worked for Jimmy Toner, and. I even worked for (Hall of Fame trainer) Eddie Neloy back when Johnny Campo was his second assistant. I always wanted to ride, but when I got too big, I went over to the standardbreds.”

Racing primarily at Yonkers and Roosevelt, Procino trained many good horses, including Limbo Joe, Central Park, Revolutionist and his big horse, Sea The USA.

“Sea The USA was my last good horse,” Procino said. “He made more than $700,000 and was a champion. I went back to Florida, figuring that I was tired of traveling and I could do well down there. A lot has changed, though, and I am thinking about coming back up here. I have always kept my finger in Thoroughbred racing; I know a lot of people.”

Cornelio Velasquez has the mount on Stately Character in the Peter Pan.

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey thought he had figured out Sequoia Racing’s Imperial Council after his second-place finish to I Want Revenge in Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on May 7. McGaughey felt that if he placed the colt closer to the pace, he would be an impact player in the Grade 1, nine-furlong Wood Memorial.

And he was – running second until he weakened in the lane and finished fifth. The Kentucky Derby was now out of the question.

“He was doing so good, and then he got fired up in the paddock,” said McGaughey, a two-time Peter Pan winner with Sightseeing (2007) and Seeking the Gold (1988). “I don’t know if it was the crowd or what it was, but it really took me by surprise. But we have worked with him since. We took him to the paddock (Wednesday) and will probably go again on Friday. I think he is a good horse with a lot of talent that has a lot of good races in him. We’ve had no problems with him in the paddock lately, but you never know until race day.”

Trainer Doug O’Neill has entered Robert Master’s Scorewithcater in the Peter Pan, and jumping out of the colt’s past performances is the fact that he twice beat Mine That Bird at Sunland Park in New Mexico.

Elizabeth J. Valando’s Hello Broadway is graded stakes placed, but has yet to win. Trainer Barclay Tagg will try racing him with blinkers, as he returns to dirt off a PolyTrack victory at Keeneland on April 10. Charitable Man, Brave Victory and Al Khali complete the field for the Peter Pan.

The field for Saturday’s 56th running of the Grade 2 Peter Pan:

1. Stately Character Gerald Procino Cornelio Velasquez 120
2. Hello Broadway Barclay Tagg Garrett Gomez 116
3. Charitable Man Kiaran McLaughlin Alan Garcia 116
4. Brave Victory Nick Zito Rajiv Maragh 116
5. Scorewithcater Doug O’Neill Ramon Dominguez 120
6. Imperial Council Shug McGaughey Edgar Prado 116
7. Al Khali Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 118

Hello Broadway will race with blinkers.

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