HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, May 14, 2023 — It was a fun day at the races spent marking the time between Derby and Preakness Saturdays with a pair of Royal Ascot-bound juvenile turf prospects in South Florida.
Up north, the Mike Maker-trained, Irad Ortiz-ridden Red Knight showed plenty of late zip, the 9-year-old taking the Grade 1 Man o’ War as prelude to one of the more memorable renewals of the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes.
In the 9-furlong Grade 3 one-turner, with two colts throwing it down through the length of Elmont straight to determine whether the Belmont Stakes is a realistic short term goal, both winner and runnerup appeared to answer in the affirmative.
1st Racing showed laudable creativity with a pair of “Win-And-In” races, one for each sex, that proved very popular at the entry box, the winner in each division qualifying of their choice among six races at prestigious Royal Ascot next month.
Underscoring the point, 13 of 23 total entrants were making their debuts in the newly created Royal Palm series.
The pre-race chatter nailed it very well: George Weaver liked his horses in both divisions and that of the two Wesley Ward starters, the filly had the better chance of the ship-in pair. Weaver swept both events, one at the direct of the Ward-trained filly, odds-on Ocean Mermaid.
The colts were up first and two first-timers wound up completing a “baseball exacta,” No Nay Mets taking the lead at once and holding off the turn-challenge of Mattingly.
Appropriately named No Nay Mets, the winner, a son of No Nay Never, is owned by Houston Astros All-Star third baseman’s Alex Bregman Family Trust LLC, and it appears they are Great Britain-bound:
“I always said after I went to Ascot the first time it would be nice to go back with someone who has a chance to win,” said Weaver post-race. “[Both] have early speed. I do need to look at the menu before picking out a race, although I’d like to keep both at five-eighths if we can.”
No Nay Mets finished 3-1/2 lengths over Mattingly who stayed well after chasing the winner all the way, but his five furlongs in 57.50, after setting fractions of 22.98 and 45.44 seconds for the first half mile, was no match for Crimson Advocate’s, winning of the Royal Palm Juvenile Fillies in 56:25 after posting splits of 21.83 and 44:42.
“We really liked her going into the race up there,” Weaver said of the second-time starter who debuted at Keeneland in April. “I expected her to be on the lead but she was green. We put some blinkers on today and she broke sharp and looked good the whole way.” the trainer added.
No Nay Mets is a son of No Nay Never, a Royal Ascot winner for Wesley Ward in 2013. “He’s a pretty nifty colt,’” Weaver explained. “He was on a rushed schedule for this. There’s no reason not to go over there. It’s a lot of fun and he’s got as good a chance as anybody.”
Memorable Stretch Battle at Belmont
If the stretch battle between formerly undefeated Bishops Bay and recent Gulfstream revelation Arcangelo didn’t get your heart racing, this game’s not for you.
Bishops Bay moved first, having to chase down the leader approaching head-stretch while Javier Castellano tipped Arcangelo out for the drive and the two hooked up at the three-sixteenths pole where the battle was joined in earnest.
It was a head-bobbing run from the sixteenth pole to the wire where Bishops Bay, hugging the fence, edge away to a half-length lead, appearing on his way to a drawing-out victory when Arcangelo re-surged, sticking his head out in the nick of time.
Speaking of which, the final three furlongs went in a race-horse 36.48 second, to cap the trip in a very solid 1:49.71. Coming from slightly off a pedestrian half-mile in 48.83 seconds, the effort was strong by both, the tandem beating the show finisher by nine lengths.
Having been tested by a serious rival over Big Sandy, both Peter Pan exacta horses present as live Belmont Stakes possibilities.
Will the winner go? “That’s a conversation,” trainer Jena Antonucci said post-race. “Ground has never been a problem, that’s why we waited as long as we did [to run him]… He’s still a kid figuring it out. We’ll stay out of his way and see how he comes out of this.”