Hagler Could Throw Knockout Punch in Jerome Stakes

Hagler Could Throw Knockout Punch in Jerome Stakes

Eight horses are entered in Saturday’s $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, which kicks off the Road to the 2022 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep series of races in New York.

Leading the field is a pair of recent stakes-placed runners in Cooke Creek and Ohtwoohthreefive. Cooke Creek won the Rocky Run Stakes in October and was most recently second in the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes at Belmont Park in November, while Ohtwoohthreefive missed by a nose in the Central Park Stakes on turf near the end of November and tries dirt for the first time for his seventh career start. Mr Jefferson also enters the Jerome off a stakes try, as he was fourth of eight in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Belmont four weeks ago. Rumble Strip Ron finished second in the Best of Ohio Stakes in October which was a race restricted to horses bred in Ohio only, and he enters the Jerome off a claiming race in November, so this will be a big test. Then there are a quartet of recent winners, including Hagler, who broke his maiden in October and then bested allowance company on Dec. 16. The other recent winner –  Courvoisier, Smarten Up and Unbridled Bomber – all enter the Jerome Stakes off maiden wins and will attempt to prove they belong at this level.

Top contenders:

Hagler gets a great outside post for this one-turn mile trip at Aqueduct and appears to be the type who can be on the lead or just off the pace from the start, which is an advantage in many ways as he and jockey Jorge Vargas Jr. can wait a few strides to see if another horse wants the lead at the start. If to, they can take up a stalking position – or if no other horse wants the lead, Hagler can take command. That is exactly what he did in his most recent race at Aqueduct where he led from start to finish going seven furlongs. Prior to that, in a 6 ½-furlong sprint on Oct. 29 at Belmont Park, Hagler stayed in second for the first half-mile before drawing off to win by 4 ½ lengths. Both victories came with Vargas in the saddle and the first of the two earned an 84 Equibase Speed Figure. If Hagler logically improves on that figure in his third start off a layoff, it will put him in range of the top horses’ figures in the field. Those top figures belong to the other two main contenders in Ohtwoohthreefive (93) and Cooke Creek (89). Per Stats Race Lens, trainer Rudy Rodriguez has a very good 20% win percentage stretching a horse out in distance at Aqueduct over the last two years, with a +38% return on investment and a median win payoff of $13. As such, I expect Hagler to win his third race in a row and put his name squarely into the Road to the Kentucky Derby with a big effort in the Jerome Stakes.

Ohtwoohthreefive has raced exclusively on turf to date, with a record of 1-2-2 in six races. His best effort came in his most recent race on Nov. 27 in the Central Park Stakes, where he rallied to lead with an eighth of a mile to go and then battled nose-and-nose down to the wire, losing by inches at the finish. Nevertheless, the 95 figure he earned that day is the best by any horse in the Jerome field. Whether that type of effort is transferrable to dirt does not appear to be a question as his sire is Union Rags, who won the 2012 Belmont Stakes. Additionally, trainer George Weaver has a creditable 5-for-16 record when moving a horse from turf to dirt over the last 12 months. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche rode Ohtwoohthreefive for the first time on Nov. 27 and rides back in the Jerome, and if the early pace is hotly contested this colt could get up in time and win.

Cooke Creek is the only horse in the Jerome Stakes field with a stakes win, and that win came at the same one-mile trip as this Jerome. He won his debut when sprinting easily in September with a 76 figure, and then stretched out to a mile and won the Rocky Run Stakes in October, earning an 89 figure. Trying much tougher foes in the Nashua Stakes in November, Cooke Creek was no match for winner Rockefeller when second the entire length of the stretch but he was nearly three lengths clear of the next horse and earned an 86 figure in the process. With jockey Manuel Franco riding back after getting familiar with the colt in the Nashua, Cooke Creek certainly can win this race with just slight improvement off his Rocky Run effort.

The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Courvoisier (85), Mr Jefferson (82), Rumble Strip Ron (77), Smarten Up (71) and Unbridled Bomber (82).

Win contenders, in preference/probability order:

Hagler

Ohtwoohthreefive

Cooke Creek