Eight horses are entered in the $150,000 Jerome Stakes Saturday at Aqueduct, in which the top five finishers earn points to qualify for the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
In terms of recent efforts at the highest level, we start with Arctic Arrogance, who finished second last month in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes after winning the state-restricted Sleepy Hollow Stakes in October. General Banker is another horse who has run well recently in stakes, having won the New York Stallion Series Stakes easily by 8 ½ lengths last month. Andiamo a Firenze finished second, beaten by a nose, in the New York Breeders’ Futurity Stakes when last seen in mid-October and hopes to duplicate the feat of his half-brother Firenze Fire, who won this race in 2018. Then there’s Lugan Knight, who won his second career start before posting a third-place effort in a highly rated race near the end of November. Circling the Drain, Narciso Dali and Neural Network all hope to step up off maiden wins and compete at this tougher level, as does Valenzan Day, who won by eight lengths in his most recent start and was claimed for $50,000 out of that race by top trainer Linda Rice, who also saddles Arctic Arrogance.
Lugan Knight has run in three one-turn races to date, each of them not much different than this one-turn mile trip at Aqueduct, finishing in the money in all three races. The best of the three came in his most recent start on Nov. 26 when Lugan Knight earned a career-best 93 Equibase Speed Figure in a third-place finish. That effort came behind Victory Formation who is still unbeaten in three races, including the Smarty Jones Stakes on New Year’s Day, a Road to the Derby points race just like the Jerome. Victory Formation improved by six Equibase Speed Figure points over his previous effort in the Smarty Jones, which suggests that if Lugan Knight can do the same, he will be in the 99 to 100 speed figure range with his effort in the Jerome and that is good enough to win.
General Banker has won or placed in four of eight races, including two of four one-turn races on dirt. Better still, since adding blinkers in October, General Banker has improved his figures in three straight races, from 86 in October to 93 in November to a career-best 103 figure last month when winning the New York Stallion Series Stakes by over eight lengths. That race was run at seven-eighths of a mile at Aqueduct and I expect General Banker to run as well or better running longer in this event.
Arctic Arrogance is likely to be the betting favorite in this year’s Jerome Stakes, because he finished second of seven last month in the higher-level Remsen Stakes over this track. He took the lead from the start in that 1 1/8-mile race, and Arctic Arrogance was in front at the one-mile mark (the point at which the Jerome ends) and battled gamely to the wire to be beaten just a half-length while finishing 11 ¼ lengths ahead of the third-place horse. Arctic Arrogance is also an improving type, as he earned an 85 figure near the end of September and then improved to 90 in October and finally to a career-best 100 figure last month in the Remsen. The only knock I can find is the colt has showed a need-the-lead style in all four of his career races to date. That could prove problematic considering Narciso Dali led from start to finish in his most recent race, as did Circling the Drain, and Valenzan Day as well as Andiamo a Firenze have also done their best when leading early or very close to the front.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Andiamo a Firenze (87), Circling the Drain (81), Narciso Dali (91), Neural Network (85) and Valenzan Day (93).
Win contenders, in preference/probability order: