There's only one Independence Hall, but in a sense there's two. There's "Paddock" Independence Hall and "Game Time" Independence Hall.
"Paddock" Independence Hall is an impetuous, newly turned 3-year-old who can make quite a fuss and be a handful to saddle and control before a race.
"He's a racehorse, not a play horse," said Randy Gullatt of Twin Creeks Racing Stables, part of the colt's ownership group. "That's where that energy comes from."
Yet once it's game time and he's embroiled in a race, that rambunctious behavior morphs into an impressive display of speed.
The undefeated son of Constitution made it three wins in as many tries by starting the new year with a handy four-length score in the $150,000 Jerome Stakes for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct Racetrack, using the Jan. 1 race to increase his combined margin of victory to 21 lengths.
"He was a wild man in here (before the race), but we'll work on that, and hopefully he'll give us a break next time. He gets to bouncing around on the brick and gets all excited," trainer Michael Trombetta said. "I'm happy to get the win."
The win was not much of a surprise for a horse bet down to 13-1 in the initial Kentucky Derby future book wagering.
Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks, and Kathleen and Robert Verratti, Independence Hall was sent off as a 1-10 favorite over five seemingly overmatched rivals. It was his first start since a 12 1/4-length victory at Aqueduct in the Nov. 3 Nashua Stakes while setting a stakes record of 1:34.66 for the same one-turn, one-mile distance as Wednesday's 2020 debut.
The win in the 150th edition of the Jerome also provided the son of the Cape Town mare Kalahari Cat with 10 qualifying points in the road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve series.
"I rode him like I had the best horse," jockey Jose Ortiz said. "I didn't want to be a hero and get stuck behind horses. I rode him like the best horse, and he was."
The victory in 1:37.27 was not as impressive as the Nashua, but that was to be expected two months after such a monstrous win.
"He didn't look like he did the last time," Ortiz said, "but the track was very tiring. I thought he did a good job for not running in two months. I'm sure he can be better than he was today, but we're very pleased with the effort."
The antics of "Paddock" Independence Hall are a different story. Now bound for Tampa Bay Downs to begin preparing for his first test around two turns and the more important Triple Crown preps, getting the talented colt to relax before a race—and expend less energy—is a major goal.
"We were sitting on him for two months. It's hard to keep an improving and energetic 2-year-old-turning-3-year-old on the ground for that long, but Mike Trombetta did an incredible job," Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners founder Aron Wellman said. "Everything worked out well between the Nashua and today, and we're just glad to see him take care of business.
"We definitely have some things to work on. His behavior in the paddock—his head was completely turned to the side when they sprung the latch. We have to make sure he's standing still in the gate. Little things like that that hopefully will come with maturation. That's also why we wanted to get him going so early in the year so we had flexibility to work on those things. There's no doubt the talent is there. He's a very smart horse. He knows the difference between school and game time. You saw that today. We hope he keeps maturing and improving."
While Ortiz said Independence Hall behaved better once he entered the racetrack than he did for the Nashua, he was antsy in the starting gate, leading to him breaking last in the field of six.
"He was like that last time. He had a lot of energy in the paddock, and I'm sure he wasted some today. The last time, he was even like that on the racetrack, but today when he got the pony, he was nice," Ortiz said. "In the gate, he wasn't turned the right way, and I asked the starter to help me so he was moving when the gates opened. That's why he broke slowly."
The slow start presented no problem for the Constitution colt in a field that lacked another starter with stakes experience. Ortiz quickly moved "Game Time" Independence Hall outside of horses into second and took charge shortly after a :47.47 opening half-mile.
Ahead by 1 ½ lengths at the quarter pole, he was unchallenged in the stretch as Prince of Pharoahs and Bourbon Bay finished in a dead heat for second behind him.
With Independence Hall heading south, his next test could come Feb. 8 in the two-turn, 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay.
"The Sam Davis lands on a good spot on the calendar, for sure, but the benefit of starting today is we have a lot of options," Wellman said.
Darlene Bilinski and Harry Patten's Prince of Pharoahs, an American Pharoah colt, and Bourbon Lane Stable, Seidman Stables, and Lake Lonely Racing's Bourbon Bay, a son of Bayern , each received three points toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby. Both 3-year-olds are New York-breds.
Imperial Racing's Celtic Striker, a son of Congrats , was 11 1/4 lengths back in fourth and was credited with one qualifying point.