Judging from recent history, it takes a very specific type of horse to win the $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, the first of four Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races being held at the New York track this year.
Since the race was moved from April to January in 2013, favorites have dominated, winning five of six renewals while the lone “upset” winner started at 2.80-1. Furthermore, the winners were short prices because all six had previously run well in one or more stakes races—in fact, Firenze Fire (2018), El Areeb (2017), El Kabeir (2015), and Vyjack (2013) were all established stakes winners prior to contesting the Jerome.
The takeaway? The Jerome hasn’t been kind toward up-and-coming maiden or allowance runners in recent years, which is why #3 Mind Control looks like a deserving favorite in the 2019 Jerome on New Year’s Day.
If it’s class you want, Mind Control has got it. After finishing second in his debut at Delaware Park behind future graded stakes winner Call Paul, Mind Control easily broke his own maiden at Monmouth before shipping to Saratoga and upsetting the prestigious seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) in gutsy front-running style, earning solid speed figures of 84 (Beyer) and 92 (BRIS).
Unfortunately, the end of Mind Control’s juvenile campaign didn’t go quite as planned. He missed a planned start in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) due to an illness and entered the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) off of an unexpectedly long layoff; to add insult to illness (or something like that), Mind Control suffered a poor start in the Juvenile and wound up off the pace for the first time in his career. Under the circumstances, I thought he really ran pretty well to pass some tired horses and split the field in seventh place.
For the Jerome, Mind Control will be reunited with jockey John Velazquez, who guided the colt to victory in the Hopeful. And while Mind Control has yet to prove himself running farther than seven furlongs, the one-turn mile of the Jerome shouldn’t be too challenging—as a son of Stay Thirsty, he’s got enough stamina in his pedigree to suggest that another furlong won’t be an obstacle. With two late runners drawn to his inside, Mind Control should be able to use his speed to secure the lead, save ground, and dare his rivals to catch him.
#6 Souper Jackpot, runner-up by a neck in the Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park, ships north with eye-catching speed figures under his belt and looms as Mind Control’s main challenger. #4 Our Braintrust, winner of Belmont Park’s Tremont Stakes against a deep field during the spring, recently returned from a layoff to finish second in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity Stakes behind the talented Alwaysmining and is another logical contender.
$14 exacta: 3 with 6 ($14)
$5 trifecta: 3 with 4,6 with 4,6 ($10)
$3 trifecta: 3 with 6 with 1,2 ($6)