Betting on a Closer in the Jerome

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues on Saturday with the running of the $150,000 Jerome S. at Aqueduct. Contested over a one-turn mile, the Jerome awards Kentucky Derby qualification points to the top five finishers on a 10-5-3-2-1 basis.

That means every horse in the Jerome field will receive at least one Kentucky Derby qualification point, because only five horses have entered. And among the five, I'm confident #1 Drum Roll Please will take home top honors.

Despite the small field, the Jerome is packed with speed. For example:

  • #2 Khanate broke his maiden by 10 1/2 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland, in which he settled less than one length behind an opening quarter-mile in :22.14 before taking over through half a mile in :45.72. Furthermore, Khanate has dueled for the lead in two of his other three starts.
  • #3 Sweet Soddy J has earned his strongest Brisnet Speed ratings when racing on the front end. He posted a 91 when wiring the seven-furlong Heft S. at Laurel Park by six lengths and a 90 when employing dueling tactics to finish fourth in the six-furlong James F. Lewis III S. over the same track.
  • #4 El Grande O is the field's fastest entrant from a Brisnet Speed rating perspective, peaking with a 99 when wiring the seven-furlong Bertram F. Bongard S. at Aqueduct. He's set the pace in five of his last seven starts and enters off a gate-to-wire victory in the Sleepy Hollow S. racing one mile at Aqueduct.
  • #5 Regalo hasn't settled more than half a length off the early lead in any of his three starts. In a 1 1/16-mile $62,500 allowance optional claimer at Laurel Park last month, he vied for the lead for six furlongs before taking over to win by 4 1/2 lengths.

All of this speed figures to suit Drum Roll Please just fine. Not that Drum Roll Please is lacking in speed himself; when he broke his maiden in a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct, he was never more than three-quarters of a length behind splits of :22.79 and :45.36. He actually took over the lead through six furlongs in a strong 1:10.15.

But Drum Roll Please is perfectly comfortable closing from farther behind. During the summer, in a one-mile maiden special weight at Saratoga, he tracked a modest pace from third place before finishing fast (final quarter-mile in approximately :24 2/5) to run second behind Locked, who returned to win the Breeders' Futurity (G1) and finish third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).

Drum Roll Please arguably ran even better in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct last month. Racing over a muddy track that played strongly in favor of speed horses all day long, Drum Roll Please spent the first six furlongs racing in seventh place, as many as 5 1/2 lengths off the lead. Despite occupying an unfavorable position, Drum Roll Please unleashed a strong rally around the far turn and early in the homestretch, advancing to third place by one length. He flattened out in the final furlong to finish 4 3/4 lengths behind the top pair, but held third place by a clear margin.

Assuming the track plays fairly for the Jerome, Drum Roll Please figures to settle behind the speed horses and launch a winning rally in the homestretch. The fact he broke his maiden over this track and distance adds to the appeal. Keeping in mind how trainer Brad Cox has been winning Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races in bunches over the past few years, Drum Roll Please is a compelling choice to win the Jerome.

For second place, I'm keen to support El Grande O, a three-time stakes winner who rarely runs a bad race. He did falter in his first Road to the Kentucky Derby foray, finishing a distant sixth in the Champagne (G1), but that effort came against a deep field and he actually finished ahead of next-out Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Fierceness, who similarly misfired while finishing seventh.

El Grande O has spent much of his career competing against fellow New York-breds, but the New York-bred juveniles were a tough bunch last year. In the six-furlong Funny Cide S. at Saratoga, El Grande O finished second by a head against The Wine Steward, who returned to finish second by half a length against Locked in the Breeders' Futurity.

I suspect one mile might be a little farther than El Grande O wants to run, but I believe his talent will allow him to outlast the other Jerome speed horses and secure the runner-up spot behind Drum Roll Please.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Jerome?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

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