The Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct has a tradition rich with some of the sport’s brightest stars. In its first 148 runnings, the one-mile stakes for 3-year-olds has been captured by the likes of Fusaichi Pegasus, Housebuster, Crème Fraiche, Fit to Fight, Kelso, and Bold Ruler. Yet mentioning those horses in the same sentence as Wednesday’s 149th running is akin to discussing apples and oranges. For the most part, those horses competed in a stakes held in the second half of the year. But in 2013, the stakes was switched to New Year’s Day and converted into a prep for Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve hopefuls with 10 qualifying points for the run for the roses going to the winner.
1. Prince of Pharoahs (8-1 morning-line odds): He certainly has regal breeding on his side as he’s a son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. But this New York-bred is taking a big class jump, moving from a state-bred maiden race to a stakes with one of the top Kentucky Derby candidates. It would be a surprise if he upends the favorite, but he’s capable of winding up in the exotics.
2. Inside Risk (scratched): Aside from Independence Hall, he’s the only other horse in the field with stakes experience. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very competitive in two tries, finishing ninth on a synthetic surface in the Grey Stakes at Woodbine and sixth in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. He was gelded after his last start in the Grey Stakes and perhaps he’ll sneak into the bottom of the superfecta.
JOCKEY: Reylu Gutierrez TRAINER: Tom Morley
3. Independence Hall (1-5): Bridgejumpers will probably consider him a late-arriving gift from Santa. Judging by the way he won the one-mile Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct by 12 ¼ lengths in the stakes record time of 1:34.66, he’s a leading Kentucky Derby candidate and towers over this field like a giant oak. While he may not match the dazzling 101 Beyer Speed Figure he registered in the Nashua, anything in the same area code of that effort should put him in the winner’s circle against a collected of unproven rivals.
4. Dubai Bobby (30-1): His lone win came in a $40,000 maiden claimer on turf and in his lone start on dirt he was seventh in a Saratoga maiden race. Others are much more appealing.
JOCKEY: Luis Rodriguez Castro TRAINER: Chad Summers
5. Polar Bear Pete (30-1): Named for New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso, he hit one over the fence in his debut, taking a $75,000 maiden claimer. He was then third in allowance company and can be in the thick of the battle – for the place spot.
JOCKEY: Dylan Davis TRAINER: Ed Barker
6. Celtic Striker (12-1): Displayed nice early speed in his two starts at Monmouth, going gate-to-wire to take his most recent try. He’s been freshened since that Oct. 27 score at the Jersey Shore, but what figures to work against him is that he’s yet to travel beyond six furlongs and he’ll face intense pressure from Independence Hall, who should be pressing the early pace.
7. Bourbon Bay (5-1): He’s been a tardy starter, but that didn’t faze him in his second and most recent start when he rallied to take a state-bred maiden race at Aqueduct. He’s also traveling beyond six furlongs for the first time, but with his late-running style, the mile should suit him and make him the main rival for the favorite.
THE PICK: Independence Hall
LIVE LONGSHOT: Polar Bear Pete