The 2014 Road to the Kentucky Derby takes us to the Empire State Saturday where a field of eight young horses have been entered in the 144th running of the $200,000 Jerome Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct. Live racing at Aqueduct was cancelled Friday because of the snow storm blasting much of the east coast, but live racing is expected to resume as scheduled on Saturday.
I’m not overly excited with this race. However, Noble Moon appears to be the best of this field and he will go to the starting gate as the 6-5 morning-line favorite.
Noble Moon comes into this race with a three-quarter length win in his maiden debut at Belmont Park on September 14. He followed that with a third-place finish, after stumbling at the start, in the Nashua Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct in November. Noble Moon was entered next in the Remsen Stakes (G2) but was scratched because of hives.
“He got hives the night before [the Remsen] and we had to treat him, so he had to be scratched," said Noble Moon’s trainer Leah Gyarmati in an Aqueduct news story written by Jon Forbes. "He's been great ever since, hasn't missed a work, and is doing very well, so, hopefully, he'll run well on Saturday,” she added. “This race probably won't come up as tough as some of the races down the line, but it's a good starting place, and you have to see how he matches up against everyone else."
Noble Moon definitely has the breeding to be competitive. Malibu Moon, the sire of Noble Moon, also sired the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner, Orb. Kingmambo, the damsire of Noble Moon, has sired numerous champion Thoroughbreds as outlined by pedigree expert Sid Fernando in his Sid Fernando + Observations blog.
If Noble Moon lives up to his breeding, I look for him to be competitive.
Lawmaker, trained by Chad Brown, is another Malibu Moon colt I like in this race and he’s listed as 8-1 on the morning line. Lawmaker is stepping up in class and he comes into this race with a one-length win in his maiden debut at Laurel Park on November 28.
Sir Cat, the damsire of Lawmaker, is also the damsire of Hansen who was the 2011 Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Male and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1).
If Lawmaker improves off of his maiden win, he should be competitive in the Jerome.
Mental Iceberg, who’s listed at 20-1 on the morning line, looks like an interesting long shot. He won his maiden debut by three-quarters of a length running 8½-furlongs at Belmont Park last September and followed that performance with an eighth-place finish in the 9-furlong Remsen Stakes (G2), beaten 17 lengths by Honor Code.
Mental Iceberg should like the cutback in distance and if he stays clear of traffic like he did in winning his maiden, he could be competitive in the Jerome.
Stepping up in class, Scotland (7-2) has never ran in a route race and he finished second in both of his previous starts. But if he handles the stretch out in distance, Scotland could factor in the exotics.
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Jerome will receive 10 points, the second-place finisher will receive four points, the third-place finisher will receive two points and the four-place finisher will receive one point. Here’s a look at the current top 20 Derby qualifiers:
KENTUCKY DERBY 2014 LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Havana, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
2. Honor Code, 14, Shug McGaughey, $340,000
3. Tapiture, 12, Steve Asmussen, $120,738
4. Bond Holder, 11, Doug O’Neill, $273,000
5. New Year’s Day, 10, Bob Baffert, $1,100,000 – retired with sesamoid chip injury
6. Rise Up, 10, Tom Amoss, $782,633
7. We Miss Artie, 10, Todd Pletcher, $242,000
8. Ami’s Holiday, Josie Carrroll, $120,635
9. Cleburne, 10, Dale Romans, $102,044
10. Casigaupo, 5, Mario Morales, $271,050
11. Cairo Prince, 4, Kiaran McGlaughlin, $230,000
12. Dance With Fate, 4, Peter Eurton, $110,000
13. Smarty’s Echo, 4, Anne Smith, $80,000
14. Laddie Boy, 4, Chuck Perry, $39,719
15. Smart Cover, 4, Dale Romans, $32,918
16. Big Bazinga, 4, Sandra Dominguez, $29,139
17. Ride On Curlin, 3, William Gowin, $64,387
18. Strong Mandate, 2, D. Wayne Lukas, $382,500
19. Tamarando, 2, Jerry Hollendorfer, $270,000
20. Go Greeley, 2, John Ross, $220,601
21. Rankhaspriveleges, 2, Ken McPeek, $100,000
Top Billing, ranked fifth on my 2014 Kentucky Derby Outlook, looked good today finishing second in just his second start against seasoned horses, running in a 9-furlong optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park. Here’s the chart call and video replay:
COMMISSIONER stalked the pace along the inside, angled out for room in the stretch, rallied to take over at the sixteenth pole and was all out to edge TOP BILLING. The latter, reserved off the pace, swung out at the top of the stretch, rallied to reach COMMISSIONER nearing the sixteenth pole and continued on with good courage while being edged at the wire.