Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Jerome Stakes – By Eric Solomon

The first of four Derby points races at Aqueduct this year is the Jerome Stakes, going a one turn mile. While this race hasn’t had a major impact on the Triple Crown, some nice horses have come out of this race in recent years. Firenze Fire, Mind Control, and Independence Hall all  went on to be graded stakes winners. This year’s running has attracted the runner-up in last month’s Remsen, Arctic Arrogance. 

Aqueduct, Saturday 1/7/22, Race 8: The $150K Jerome Stakes

20 Total Derby points (10/4/3/2/1)

1 – Neural Network (7-2 ML): Chad Brown and Klaravich Stables have been players in the three year old stakes series at Aqueduct over the last several years. They won this race in 2016 with Flexibility and they’ve won the last two runnings of the Withers with Risk Taking and the 2022 Preakness winner, Early Voting. Neural Network is a son of their 2017 Preakness winner, Cloud Computing, who is making his second career start. There was absolutely nothing wrong with his debut in the mud, winning a seven furlong state bred maiden allowance here by five lengths. The Beyer figure was a respectable 74 for his first out and there figures to be more in the tank. The third place finisher of that race came back to win in his next start last month. On the negative side, the offspring of Cloud Computing have only won one route race on the dirt in 18 tries thus far. The dam’s other two runners to hit the track never won a race, so I think it’s fair to wonder how high his ceiling will be. He’s a nice horse that certainly could win this race, however, I think his connections will cause him to be overbet. I think there will be better value elsewhere.  

2 – Circling the Drain (12-1 ML): Brittany Russell, who continues to pile up the training wins in Maryland, brings this gelded son of West Coast up from Laurel for his first foray into stakes company. He easily defeated a waiver maiden claiming field in a two turn race last month. Being a Maryland bred, he was eligible for the waiver, so he was able to run without the tag. He’s the 7th foal to race from the mare Who’s Cozy, with the most successful runner being the stakes winning sprinter, Who’s In Town. I think he had an easy trip against a soft field last out, which will lead me to look in another direction. 

3 – Valenzan Day (10-1 ML, 225-1 Circa): Linda Rice recently claimed this Khozan gelding for $50K after an impressive seven length score with optional claiming/starter allowance foes here last month. He’s never gone longer than seven furlongs on the track, so that will be a new task for him in his ninth career start. He was a $15K purchase that proved to be a wise investment for his initial owners, earning $158K on the track and fetching another $50K for the claim. Rice has good numbers first off the claim and going from sprints to routes. His figures seem a little light, but he isn’t the craziest longshot to try here. 

4 – Lugan Knight (4-1 ML, 175-1 Circa): Michael McCarthy doesn’t run many horses on the NYRA circuit, starting only ten horses here in the past five years, most of them coming in stakes races. He’s looking to win his first race in New York with this son of Goldencents who broke his maiden two starts ago at Keeneland in a 6 and ½ furlong maiden allowance race. His third place effort in November behind Victory Formation looks stronger now after that one easily won the Smarty Jones Stakes on Sunday. He’e the first foal to race from the Speightstown mare, Sly Roxy. He looked comfortable stalking the pace last out, and that’s the kind of the trip that might be advantageous here. I’d like to do better than his 4-1 morning line, but I see him as a horse that has a shot here. 

5 – Andiamo a Firenze (6-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): Firenze Fire won this race in 2018 and now Mr. Amore Stables will try to win this race again with his half brother. He started five times as a two year old, breaking his maiden in the slop in his debut and winning the Funny Cide Stakes in the mud. He was third in the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes and 4th in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes when facing open company. He ended his season with a narrow defeat in the New York Breeders Futurity at Finger Lakes. I do worry about the pace scenario and the distance for him in this spot. I think there are others that are going to be pressing for the lead and he’s yet to show that can successfully rate. I respect him, but I prefer others today. 

6 –Arctic Arrogance (8-5 ML, 200-1 Circa): Linda Rice trains the runner up of the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes, who should be the prohibitive favorite today. He’s never finished worse than second in four career starts. He easily defeated fellow New York breds in the Sleepy Hollow Stakes at this distance on this course. He’s cutting back from a two-turn, nine furlong race, in part because Rice doesn’t want to give him too much time between starts. Despite the forecast being dry, here still could be some moisture in the track after the course was labeled sloppy yesterday. That certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing for him after winning in the mud in his debut. I think the course and distance should be right up his alley and he appears to be further along in his development than the others in this field. 

7 – General Banker (8-1 ML): After a slow start to his career, this son of Central Banker is starting to find his best stride. He was 0-7 to start his career, but he was showing progress. He put it all together by crushing ten rivals in the New York Stallion Series race last month, winning in the mud by over eight lengths to break his maiden. He handled taking mud to the face and powered home in the stretch. He looks like a horse that could let the frontrunners do their business on the front end and make a run late. He’s one of four New York breds in this race, and I see him as the most interesting price horse here. 

8 – Narcisco Dali (20-1 ML): This son of Tamarkuz broke his maiden in his 6th career start, when facing $75K maiden claimers last time out. It was a decent effort at this track and distance. Like Circling the Drain, he had a very easy trip against some soft competition. I think it’ll be hard for him to take a big step forward with the significant bump up in class. 



The Verdict: 6-7-4

While I’d like to try to beat the favorite in this spot, I think Arctic Arrogance is better than his competition on paper. He was gallant in defeat in the Remsen last month when going two turns, but I think he’ll be even better at this one turn mile. He’s coming out of tougher races than most of the field, and I think he can withstand a reasonable pace battle while cutting back in distance. 

General Banker is the longshot that interests me the most. He’s starting to put things together, turning in three very nice performances in a row after some duller efforts at the start of his career. There are some turf efforts that also muddy up his form a bit. He broke his maiden in a state bred stakes race last out and he looks to build off that momentum in a race where many will want to be on or near the front end. Lugan Knight is a bit interesting coming in from Kentucky for Michael McCarthy. He wasn’t far behind Victory Formation last out, so I do see him as being able to handle the move into stakes company. 

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