Originally scheduled for January 1st, the Jerome Stakes -- like much of the northeast and midwest -- has been stuck in a deep freeze. As New York will have hopefully become warm enough to safely race, the Jerome has been released from its suspended state, and scheduled for January 13. It is one of four three-year-old preps this holiday weekend. We also preview the Lecomte Stakes (G3) and the Silverbulletdaystakes Saturday at Fair Grounds, and Monday's Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn.
The Jerome Stakes, in its 147th running this year, was originally run at Jerome Park Racetrack in the Bronx. It has been run at distances ranging from a flat mile all the way to two miles, and contested at Jerome Park, Morris Park, Aqueduct, and Belmont through its history. The race is named after Leonard Walter Jerome (1817-1891). By trade he was a financier, but he was also an instrumental figure in horse racing in New York City. With August Belmont, he established Jerome Park. That racetrack opened in 1866, the year the first Jerome Stakes was run. In addition to it being the first site of the Belmont Stakes, it was also the site of the first formal outdoor polo match played in America, as the Westchester Polo Club had established and based itself there. Jerome Park remained a going concern until 1890, when it was condemned by the City of New York to build a reservoir. Since 1940, the land around the reservoir has been a city park.
The Jerome Stakes is the second-oldest American thoroughbred stakes race still in existence; the only older is the Phoenix Stakes (G2), currently run at Keeneland. Through its history, some illustrious horses have won the Jerome Stakes. Aristides, who won this race in 1875, won the first Kentucky Derby that same year. Fair Play, sire of the great Man o' War, won the Jerome in 1908. Preeminent runner and sire Bold Ruler (1957), five-time Horse of the Year Kelso (1960), and two-time champion sprinter Housebuster (1990) also count the Jerome among their career wins. Though it is currently a Kentucky Derby prep, its position so early in the year is a recent invention. It was only moved to be the earliest winter Derby prep in New York in 2013; since then, no one has carried a win in the Jerome to Derby glory. The last horse to win both the Jerome and the Kentucky Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus (2000). His first race back after finishing second in the Preakness was the Jerome, which ended up being his final career victory.
The race had been a Grade 2 as recently as 2014, but was downgraded to a Grade 3 starting with the 2015 running, and was downgraded to listed status for the 2018 running. This year's edition drew seven runners to contest for a $150,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers.
Saturday, January 13 - Aqueduct
Race 8: Jerome Stakes, three-year-olds, one mile and 70 yards on the dirt, post time 3:50pm EST
FIRENZE FIRE will be a heavy favourite in the Jerome, and deservedly so. Though he disappointed last out, that was against far tougher company in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), and the fact that he spiked a temperature leading up to the race suggests that he wasn't 100% for that start. His outing two back in the Champagne (G1) was a truer picture of him -- and that day, he proved his ability to handle the one-turn mile trip well, running down next-out Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic. Though FIRENZE FIRE rallied from well off the pace that day, earlier outings in his career show that the son of Poseidon's Warrior can be more tactical than that, allaying that concern in the short field. Trainer Jason Servis knows how to get a horse ready off a lay, FIRENZE FIRE himself fired well fresh on debut last June, and anyone else in this field is going to have to take a serious step forward to topple him.
The one with the best shot to take that step is Todd Pletcher shipper COLTANDMISSISSIPPI. He disappointed over a sloppy track in the Smooth Air Stakes last out, well beaten by stablemate Bal Harbour. But, his two wins have both come at extended one-turn trips on dry tracks: a close maiden win at Saratoga and an N1X romp at Gulfstream Park West. New York City should dry out a bit come Saturday, giving him a shot for a favourable surface. His tactical speed should serve him well with REGALIAN, SMOOTH B, and OLD TIME REVIVAL all showing such penchants to send, and COLTANDMISSISSIPPI proved in his N1X win that he can rate kindly from a rail draw. He will have to improve to win here, but as long as rider Trevor McCarthy can keep him out of the pace battle even with his shiny, new blinkers, COLTANDMISSISSIPPI should at least hit the board -- and do so at a bit better price than SEVEN TRUMPETS.
However, SEVEN TRUMPETS does loom a threat to hit the board here. The distance is the question, as dam Angel Trumpet was a classy sprinter who has tended to throw sprinters -- though, one daughter Raging Atlantic could go long, and sire Morning Line (a Tiznow son) could get a mile and beyond. Especially since his pair of wins have come at six and a half furlongs, the one-turn mile may suit SEVEN TRUMPETS reasonably enough. In both of his victories he got a stalk-and-pounce trip, something that should suit the Dale Romans trainee well enough here. Beating FIRENZE FIRE seems a tall ask for SEVEN TRUMPETS, but with the field beneath him as spotty as it is, even a repeat of his Churchill work ought to get him second or third money comfortably.
#7 FIRENZE FIRE (3/5)
#1 COLTANDMISSISSIPPI (6/1)
#2 SEVEN TRUMPETS (3/1)
Longshot: Among the longer shots, #4 FACTOR THIS (12/1) intrigues most. Though he is one of the more heavily-raced entrants in the Jerome, with seven starts underneath him, five of those came on the turf. Things fell together for him in start number seven -- his first on the Aqueduct dirt, and his first at a one-turn mile. He returns to that trip today, and keeps solid local rider Dylan Davis in the irons. FACTOR THIS won that maiden race in a stalk-and-pounce fashion in a short field, something that bodes well for this race to suit him. Class is the question -- he needs to take a step forward to make a splash here -- but between his tactical speed and his proven ability over the course and distance, he can invade the exotics at square odds.
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