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Aaron previews the 2024 Jerome Stakes from Aqueduct, then gives his top picks from this 2024 Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race.
Stakes winner Sweet Soddy J takes on graded stakes-placed Drum Roll Please & 3 other rivals in this 1-mile dirt race. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Gold Square’s graded stakes-placed Drum Roll Please will look to rebound from a last-out third in the Grade 2 Remsen when taking on four rivals in Saturday’s $150,000 Jerome, a one-mile test for sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Jerome is the first Kentucky Derby prep race of the year on the New York circuit and offers 10-5-3-2-1 qualifying points to the top-five finishers, respectively.
The Jerome is slated as Race 3 on Saturday’s nine-race program, which also features the $150,000 Ladies in Race 8. First post is 12:20 p.m. Eastern.
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Trained by two-time Eclipse Award-winner Brad Cox, Drum Roll Please faced winners for the first time last out in the nine-furlong Remsen on December 2 at the Big A. There, he raced in seventh-of-10 under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano and made up ground late in the turn to come within one length of the lead at the stretch call.
The top duo of Dornoch and Sierra Leone drew clear from Drum Roll Please down the lane and finished 4 3/4 lengths ahead of him as he finished a clear third. Drum Roll Please earned a career-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.
“He’s training really good,” said Dustin Dugas, Cox’s Belmont Park-based assistant. “He’s always been one that trains well and he’s a good keeper – a good doer.”
The Hard Spun chestnut graduated at third asking two starts back in a one-mile maiden tilt here, earning the victory with a more prominent trip under Castellano and challenging the top flight with a four-wide bid at the top of the lane. He was met with a bid from Hunt Ball in the stretch, but shook clear of his rival to draw away to a two-length score in a final time of 1:36.46.
Dugas said he expects the cutback will benefit Drum Roll Please.
“He’s one that you just play the break. He can be a little sluggish sometimes, but once he grabs the bridle, he’ll get in there for you,” said Dugas. “We’ll see what the pace is and where he’ll be.”
A $250,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale, Drum Roll Please is out of the multiple stakes-winning E Dubai mare Imply. His fourth dam, Sharon Brown, produced Hall of Famer and dual Champion Holy Bull.
Castellano has the call from the inside post.
Barry Schwartz’s New York homebred El Grande O [post 4, Kendrick Carmouche] brings a seasoned resume that includes two stakes victories against fellow state-breds for trainer Linda Rice.
The dark bay son of Take Charge Indy was last seen scoring a front-running victory in the one-mile Sleepy Hollow over a muddy and sealed Big A main track on October 29. There, he battled for the early lead with Solo’s Fury before drawing clear with ease to take a 5 1/2-length advantage at the stretch call. He faced a late challenge from stablemate B D Saints, but had plenty left to stave off his rival and post the 1 1/4-length victory in a final time of 1:37.98.
El Grande O was given a one-month freshening following the Sleepy Hollow and returned to the work tab in early December. He most recently worked five furlongs in 1:02.31 on Sunday over Belmont’s training track.
“He’s doing well,” said Rice. “He got a little break, so hopefully he’s as good a 3-year-old and he was a 2-year-old.”
El Grande O’s Sleepy Hollow victory came after an uncharacteristic sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Champagne in October, which he had entered off a dominant 8 1/4-length romp in the state-bred Bertram F. Bongard in September here. His lone other start against open company came with a game runner-up effort to Ship Cadet in an off-the-turf edition of the Skidmore in August at Saratoga Race Course.
Through a record of 8-3-3-1, El Grande O boasts field-best earnings of $319,000. He is a half-brother to the graded stakes-placed Malibu Moon mare Meal Ticket.
“[Seasoning] is always helpful,” said Rice. “Bottom line is, if someone is just better than him, that’s usually where it [helps].”
Goodfella’s LLC’s Regalo [post 5, Sheldon Russell] streaks in off back-to-back wins at Laurel Park for trainer Brittany Russell.
The son of Maximus Mischief was last seen passing his first test against winners in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer on December 9 where he engaged in an early battle with Masakado before taking the lead at the stretch call and powering home a 4 1/2-length winner in a final time of 1:46.40.
The consistent bay finished second in his September debut sprinting six furlongs at the Maryland oval before graduating by 5 1/4 lengths when stretched out to seven furlongs. A $280,000 purchase at the OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, Regalo’s second dam, Referendum, is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winner and Grade 1-producer Jersey Girl.
Built Wright Stables’ Kentucky homebred Sweet Soddy J [post 3, Dylan Davis] will look to secure his third stakes win for trainer Raymond Ginter, Jr.
Sweet Soddy J was a three-length winner of the 6 1/2-furlong Timonium Juvenile in September and arrives from a frontrunning six-length romp in the seven-furlong Heft on December 30 at Laurel Park.
The Bee Jersey gelding is cross-entered in Saturday’s 6 1/2-furlong Turfway Prevue, but owner Norman “Lynn” Cash said Sweet Soddy J is most likely to contest the Jerome.
“We’re 85 percent to run there [at Aqueduct],” Cash said. “The horse is in Maryland and it looks like he can handle a little distance.
“It’s a longer ship to Turfway,” added Cash. “I’d actually entered him at Turfway before the race ran at Laurel. I didn’t realize then we had a six-length winner there, but the way he ran it just feels like he can go long. There’s a lot more money going long than going short, so if he can take the long I’d much rather have him going that way.”
The well-traveled chestnut has competed at seven tracks through a record of 8-3-0-1, which includes a debut maiden-claiming score in August at Colonial and a third-place finish in the Fitz Dixon, Jr. Memorial in September at Presque Isle Downs.
Cash said Sweet Soddy J’s win at Timonium was even better than it looked on paper.
“He broke decent in the first race [at Colonial] and he took the lead going around the corner and drew off a little bit. The next one [at Timonium] – where he came off the pace – he stumbled coming out of the gate and almost hit the rail,” Cash said. “A horse came in and he reacted and almost hit the rail coming through the gap. The whole race he sat behind them because he couldn’t get through. He finally got through at the top of the short stretch. He was eight or 10 lengths better than everybody that day.”
Sweet Soddy J has made one previous start at a one-turn mile finishing a distant eighth after pressing the pace in the Grade 1 Champagne here in October. But Cash said Sweet Soddy J has improved with racing and could have been a three-time stakes winner had he switched leads after putting a head in front at the stretch call in the six-furlong James F. Lewis, III in November at Laurel.
“He had the race won but he wouldn’t switch leads. That’s been his issue in his earlier races,” Chapman said. “He made the lead at the head of the stretch, but he didn’t switch leads and we ended up running fourth. If he switches leads that day, he’d have won three stakes.”
Cash said Sweet Soddy J switched leads perfectly last out and he is hopeful that Dylan Davis can work out a patient trip.
“Just let him break and get where he wants to. If he makes the lead, I don’t need him way out in front,” Cash said. “I hope we push towards the lead coming around the corner. We don’t have to have the lead, but get him running down the lane.
“He looks like he wants to go long. He’s a big horse,” added Cash. “If he had another furlong to go last time he’d make that easily, he was pulling away from everybody.”
Rounding out the field is Calumet Farm’s maiden winner Khanate [post 2, Manny Franco] for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
The Hightail colt, a $35,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, drew off to win by 10 1/2-lengths in a restricted seven-furlong maiden sprint in October at Keeneland. He arrives from a pacesetting sixth in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer on November 9 at Churchill Downs.
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