Saturday Stakes Preview: New York’s road to the Kentucky Derby starts with the Jerome

DontLetTheGamePassYouByfortfus

>>Go to the PPs for the Jerome| Post Time 3:50 EST Saturday

Now run in place of the Count Fleet Stakes as the first stop on the Triple Crown trail in New York, the Grade 3 Jerome is contested over a mile and 70 yards on Aqueduct’s inner track and is restricted to three-year-olds. Last year, this race was won by El Kabeir, whose owner, Ahmed Zayat, would go on to win the Triple Crown with that one’s more heralded stablemate, American Pharoah.

While the Jerome’s history as a Derby prep race is fairly brief, its predecessor, the Count Fleet Stakes, produced Triple Crown starters on a few occasions. The most famous is of course Smarty Jones, who won the Count Fleet in early January of his three-year-old campaign as part of an undefeated run that included dominating wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Nine three-year-olds have been entered in this year’s race—though at least one runner is expected to scratch—to vie for the 17 Kentucky Derby points that are on the line, 10 of which will be awarded to the winner. The heavy favorite on the morning line is Flexibility, who exits two straight runner-up finishes behind undefeated top Derby prospect Mohaymen. 

The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, but this may be subject to change if King Kranz—one of the likely pacesetters along with Donegal Moon and Bird of Trey—is scratched in favor of Friday’s Lost in the Fog Stakes.

Let’s go through the field:

#1, Silent Assassin (50-1): Trainer Nick Zito has made a habit of running seemingly improbable long shots in races like this in an effort to accumulate enough points to make it back to the Kentucky Derby. This runner has never run on dirt. He broke his maiden for a tag last time out after sitting a perfect trip stalking a slow pace. He would need to run the race of his life to even crash the superfecta.

#2, In Equality (20-1): The son of Quality Road has shown good progression through his first three starts, culminating with a maiden-breaking score in his dirt debut last time. That win came over this track at a mile and a sixteenth, just 40 yards farther than today’s distance. While the 97 speed figure he earned does not put him in the same league as the top contenders in this field, it’s certainly possible that this long-striding Leah Gyarmati trainee could have another forward move in him. There is some solid mile and a quarter breeding on the maternal side of his pedigree. His dam, Inish Glora, was a multiple graded stakes-winning router that could handle dirt or turf and won nearly $1 million during her career. As a broodmare, she has produced a three-quarter sister to In Equality (by Elusive Quality) who finished third in the 10-furlong Queen’s Plate. A win may be asking too much of this colt right now, but he could be one to watch down the line if he is able to grab a minor award here.

#3, Donegal Moon (15-1): This Todd Pletcher trainee put in his best effort yet when holding on for fifth after setting the pace in the Remsen. His pace was rather moderate and he had no response for Flexibility and Mohaymen when they took over at the top of the stretch, but he nevertheless earned a 110 speed figure for the effort, which does make him a serious player in this spot. However, the presence of fellow speed types like Vorticity, Bird of Trey, and Condo King could make his task difficult if he’s attempting to wire this field. At his morning line price of 15/1, he’s certainly worth using.

#4, Flexibility (1-1): 

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The Chad Brown-trained colt is the star attraction in this year’s renewal of the Jerome. He has done little wrong through three career starts and showed that the distance would be no problem when finishing a game second in the Remsen last time out. His progressive speed figure pattern culminated with an impressive 115 in the Remsen, and a repeat of that effort would make him nearly impossible to beat in this race. Flexibility lives up to his name as he possesses a versatile running style that allows him to adjust to most pace scenarios. While we typically don’t like to endorse short prices, this one appears to be deserving of his heavy favoritism.

#5, Vorticity (4-1): The Distorted Humor colt followed up a dull debut effort with two straight victories at seven furlongs. While he did earn his first triple-digit speed figure in the Marylander Stakes last time out, he would need to significantly improve on that effort to make much of an impact here. He also must handle the stretch-out in distance, which is not something that his trainer, James Lawrence, excels at, getting just a 51 rating with horses trying routes for the first time. Vorticity’s physical capacity to handle two turns must also be called into question, since he’s by a sire best known for getting sprinters and milers and out of a dam that was campaigned almost exclusively in sprint races. If this colt is actually going off as the second choice in this race, we’re inclined to try and beat him.

#6, Bird of Trey (10-1): John Servis famously won the Count Fleet—previously run in the Jerome’s slot on the New York racing calendar—12 years ago with the undefeated Smarty Jones, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby and ultimately fell just one length short of sweeping the Triple Crown. Oddly enough, his entrant in this year’s race is a colt by Birdstone, Smarty Jones’s vanquisher in that infamous Belmont Stakes. The parallels don’t end there, as Bird of Trey enters this race off a runaway victory in the Pennsylvania Nursery, the same race that Smarty Jones used as a springboard to his win in the Count Fleet. The 108 speed figure that Bird of Trey earned for that effort certainly makes him a player in this race, but he is one of a few that still must prove they can handle the stretch-out to two turns. While Birdstone is a stamina influence, his dam raced primarily in sprint races, and trainer John Servis gets a paltry 36 trainer rating with runners trying routes for the first time. Nevertheless, if he’s going off at anything close to his morning line price of 10/1, he’ll be offering good value.

#7, Condo King (5-1): This colt was a wire-to-wire winner against maiden special weight company last time, beating the highly regarded but gun-shy King Kranz, who may have hung late in the stretch. Like the two colts drawn just to his inside, Condo King will try a route of ground for the first time. While we do think this runner has some ability, he faces a difficult task here, as he’ll have to avoid getting hung out wide into the first turn while vying for the lead. He earned a competitive 105 speed figure for that last race, but we’ll be somewhat surprised if he’s able to repeat that performance in today’s circumstances.

#8, King Kranz (6-1): This Ahmed Zayat-owned runner is likely to scratch in favor of Friday’ssix-furlong Lost in the Fog Stakes. If he is rerouted to this spot, he’ll be yet another pace factor in a race projected to feature a quick early tempo. In our opinion, he wouldn’t offer sufficient value at even twice his morning line price of 6/1.

#9, Let Me Go First (30-1): This gelding is stepping up, out of a visually impressive two-turn maiden score, into much tougher graded stakes company. This strapping son of Paddy O’Prado clearly possesses some ability, but we wonder if such an ambitious placing is asking too much too soon. He also may be better suited to turf down the line, considering that he’s by a sire that was most successful racing on grass and is a half-brother to turf stakes winner Bolo.

THE PLAY

We would not advise putting significant funds towards trying to beat the heavy favorite, FLEXIBILITY (#4). We can find very few flaws in this talented colt, who looms a likely winner at short odds.

However, there may still be value to be found in trifecta and superfecta wagers.

We’re inclined to try to beat runners like Vorticity (#5) and Condo King (#7), the second and third choices on the morning line. The main dangers to Flexibility are Bird of Trey (#6), who has already proven his class, and Donegal Moon (#3), who was hardly disgraced in his Remsen run and may get overlooked in the wagering. Assuming that an honest pace develops, we would also like to throw in the promising In Equality (#2) on the bottom rungs of the aforementioned exotic wagers.

Main Trifecta:  4 with 2,3,6 with 2,3,6

Backup Trifecta:  4 with 2,3,6 with 5,7,9

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