The old adage that nothing changes on New Year’s Day certainly does not apply to thoroughbred racing since all of the runners, regardless of their actually foaling date, turn one year older on January 1. Several horses celebrated their “birthday” in style on Wednesday as the Road to the Kentucky Derby technically got under way with the first three-year-old stakes of the year.
While last year’s two-year-old colt division was a modest group at best, cemented by the fact that Storm The Court won the Breeders Cup Juvenile at 46-1, the sophomores kicked off the stakes season on Wednesday with the $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. Typically such events are wide open, but the public had little trouble making Independence Hall (Jose Oritz) the prohibitive 1-9 favorite in the field of six since he had won the Grade III Nashua Stakes over the strip at the same distance two months earlier.
When the gates opened in the Jerome Stakes, Independence Hall broke a step slow and spotted the field two lengths in the first 50 yards, but he found his best stride leaving the chute and rushed up three-wide to join longshots Dubai Bobby and Celtic Striker before the opener in 23.3 and then continued to race three-abreast down the backside and by the half-mile mark in 47.2. Independence Hall surged to command on the far turn while widest of all and then drew clear in the lane under steady urging to score by four lengths in 1:37.27 for the one-turn mile on the main track.
A sophomore son of Constitution out of a Cape Town mare trained by Mike Trombetta, Independence Hall has now won all three of his starts and banked nearly $220,000 and looms an early Derby candidate. Last fall he won the Nashua by 12 lengths in what was arguably the best performance by a two-year-old on turf or dirt and the Maryland-based sophomore kicked off the New Year with a sharp score that was better than it will look on paper the next time he’s entered.
One race earlier in a one-turn allowance dash for fillies and mares, Slimey (Eric Cancel) rallied from well off the pace and widest of all in the lane to overhaul her stablemate, Carrizo, tom forge a mild 9-5 upset over 8-5 choice Queen Kahen. A four-year-old daughter of Quality Road trained by David Cannizzo, Slimey ended a modest, three-race skid by kicking off her 2020 campaign with a victory by getting the 6 1/2-furlongs in 1:18.21. She now boasts a 5-2-1 slate and banked over $200,000 from 15 career outings.
That same afternoon at Laurel Park, You Made It (Avery Whisman) forged a mild 5-1 upset in a one-turn allowance dash for Maryland-bred fillies and mares. A four-year-old daughter of Congrats trained by Kieron Magee, You Made It notched her third straight victory and now sports a 5-3-2 slate and over $120,000 banked after getting the 6 1/2-furlongs in 1:18.27. Bunting rallied belatedly as the 3-5 choice to get second for trainer Rodney Jenkins.
One race later in a two-turn allowance for older boys, King Koa (Carol Cedeno) stalked the leader down the backside, surged to command on the far turn then drew clear in the lane to a six-length score as the 5-2 second choice. A six-year-old Spring At Last gelding trained by Joseph Taylor, King Koa kicked off the campaign in style by getting the one-mile and one-sixteenth in 1:44.35 and now owns a 10-4-3 slate and over $250,000 banked in 37 career tries.
That same afternoon at Parx, Meade (Dexter Haddock) rallied from just off the pace to forge a mild 7-2 upset in a one-turn allowance dash for older boys. A four-year-old Street Sense gelding trained by Joseph Taylor, Meade outfought outsider Final Shot in the final strides by getting the 6 1/2-furlongs in 1:19.50. Meade ended his sophomore campaign with a score one week earlier and now sports five wins and nearly $140,000 banked from 12 career tries.