Happy New Year!
The juvenile Thoroughbreds of 2019 will turn three years old on Jan. 1, making them eligible for the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. A handful of these new sophomores will get an early start qualifying for the Derby when they contest the $150,000 Jerome Stakes on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct.
Leading the charge is #3 Independence Hall, who already ranks among the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby. This exciting son of Constitution closed at odds of 13-1 in Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 1 offered by Churchill Downs, and he’ll be a much shorter price in the Jerome Stakes.
Trained by Michael Trombetta, Independence Hall was an impressive debut winner at Parx Racing on Sept. 21. A slow start left him in mid-pack early on, but he accelerated strongly in the homestretch, pulling clear to score in the seven-furlong race by 4 ¾ lengths.
But Independence Hall elevated his game to an entirely different level in the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes on Nov. 3. Racing a mile at Aqueduct, Independence Hall tracked a fast pace, took over on the far turn, and roared clear down the stretch to win by 12 ¼ lengths in 1:34.66 seconds. Both his margin of victory and his winning time were records for the Nashua Stakes.
Independence Hall did race greenly down the homestretch, drifting in and out, but he left no doubt about his superiority. He was rewarded with massive speed figures (106 Equibase, 101 Beyer, 101 Brisnet) which stamp him as by far the fastest horse in the Jerome field. Even the more reasonable figures he earned for his maiden win (88 Equibase, 82 Beyer, 91 Brisnet) are higher than the best numbers posted by any of his Jerome rivals with one exception.
Independence Hall has trained forwardly since the Jerome, and we already know he likes this track and distance. Taking all of these factors together, we won’t oppose Independence Hall. But since he won’t offer much value in the win pool, we’ll seek a bigger score by playing him on top in the trifecta.
#1 Prince of Pharoahs and #7 Bourbon Bay loom as the key contenders to finish second and third. Prince of Pharoahs could be particularly formidable. A son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Prince of Pharoahs was beaten in his debut on grass, but relished switching to dirt on Oct. 13 at Belmont Park. Showing newfound early speed, Prince of Pharoahs sprinted to the front and widened from there to win by five lengths for trainer Linda Rice, who is winning at a 23% rate at Aqueduct this winter.
Bourbon Bay hasn’t been quite as flashy, but he’s shown a strong late kick while sprinting against New York-breds at Aqueduct. He rallied strongly to win by 2 ¼ lengths on Dec. 5, earning a 93 Equibase Speed Figure, and is bred to relish the one-mile distance of the Jerome Stakes. After all, sire Bayern won the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic and Street Sense, the sire of Bourbon Bay’s dam (mother), prevailed in the 2007 Kentucky Derby.
For third place, we’ll also consider #2 Inside Risk. Winner of a maiden claiming race at Saratoga, Inside Risk faltered in his first two stakes races, finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes and ninth in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes. But Inside Risk should find the competition a bit easier in the Jerome, and this race will mark his first start since being gelded. An improved effort could be in the offing.
#4 Dubai Bobby, #5 Polar Bear Pete, and #6 Celtic Striker all have their virtues, but generally bring modest speed figures to the equation. Celtic Striker might prove to be the best of the lot, but this front-running son of Congrats figures to battle Prince of Pharoahs and Independence Hall for early supremacy, a tricky spot for a colt unproven running a mile.
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$5 trifecta: 3 with 1,7 with 1,2,7 ($20)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 7th race, $5 trifecta, 3 with 1,7 with 1,2,7
Good luck, and enjoy the race!