It’s taken a bit longer than expected, but Aqueduct racetrack in New York is finally ready to host the $150,000, Grade 3 Jerome Stakes. The one-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep race was originally set to be run on Jan. 1, but was postponed due to cold weather. Fortunately, the race has been rescheduled for Jan. 13, and eight horses have been entered to compete.
In handicapping the Jerome Stakes, there are two ways to consider betting the race. The first way is to assume that #7 Firenze Fire will be very difficult to beat. After all, the Jason Servis-trained colt won the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at the same distance as the Jerome while defeating the next-out graded stakes winners Good Magic (winner of the Grade 1 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile) and Enticed (winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes). That eye-catching effort earned him solid speed figures and, if Firenze Fire runs back to that performance, the Jerome Stakes is his to lose.
Then again, bettors can also consider the possibility that Firenze Fire won’t run as well as he did in the Champagne. After all, he’s been a bit inconsistent during his career, finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes prior to the Champagne and following up his Champagne victory with a distant seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He may have had excuses for the latter performance (he came down with a temperature before the race and the distance may have been beyond his best), but throw in the fact that training was canceled for several days in New York due to cold weather — interrupting Firenze Fire's training schedule — and I think a case can be made that Firenze Fire will be vulnerable while racing over the slow, tiring track at Aqueduct for the first time.
The horse that interests me most for a possible upset is #1 Coltandmississippi. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Coltandmississippi has been based in Florida and has enjoyed uninterrupted preparation for the Jerome, which could give him an edge in fitness. His fifth-place finish last time out in the Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park was a bit disappointing, but I'll forgive that effort since it came on a sloppy, sealed track. The return to a presumably dry surface — on which he is 2-for-3 — should help his chances, and the addition of blinkers is another positive change.
My strategy will be to focus on Coltandmississippi in the exacta and hopefully beat Firenze Fire with #6 Old Time Revival, an impressive 4 3/4-length maiden winner at Laurel Park, or #2 Seven Trumpets, who enters off two straight wins at Churchill Downs.
$3 exacta: 1 with 2,6,7 ($9)
$2 exacta: 2,6,7 with 1 ($6)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!