Strapping Groom will make his return to the graded stakes ranks on February 1 at Aqueduct Racetrack in the Grade 3, $150,000 Toboggan, a six-furlong sprint on the Withers undercard.
Claimed by trainer David Jacobson for $35,000 on May 23, the 7-year-old son of Johannesburg proved to be an immediate bargain by capturing the $100,000 Lion Cavern in his next start at Belmont Park. Stepped up in class for his subsequent outing, the newly minted stakes winner dueled through strong fractions in the Grade 3 James Marvin at Saratoga Race Course, ultimately succumbing to the fast pace and fading to finish fifth, beaten 8 ½ lengths. Following a snappy win in the Kid Russell at Saratoga, Strapping Groom got another crack at graded stakes company in the Grade 1 Forego.
Sent off at 15-1, the chestnut horse broke best and led the field through demanding splits of 22.92 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.22 for the half over a sloppy Saratoga racetrack. As the field of eight turned for home, the Jacobson trainee splashed away from the others to open up a convincing 2 ½-length lead, but by mid-stretch the pace had visibly taken its toll. A leg-weary Strapping Groom drifted out to the middle of the racetrack and appeared to be out of gas with a furlong and a half remaining, while Jackson Bend mounted a serious rally towards the rail. Despite the circumstance, the determined runner never wavered in his pursuit of the wire and went on to prevail by a half-length, going away. The win gave trainer David Jacobson his first Grade 1 victory on the flats.
While still running well in his next three starts, all graded stakes ventures, Strapping Groom couldn't maintain winning form, finishing third in the Grade 1 Vosburgh in September, fourth in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap in October, and second in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap in November. On December 21, Jacobson decided to give his star pupil some class relief and entered him in the ungraded Gravesend Handicap at the Big A, to which he responded with a dominant 6 ½-length score over Palace.
Strapping Groom, owned by Drawing Away Stable and Jacobson, will break from post position 5 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard and is coupled in the wagering with Praetereo, most recently third in the one mile, 70-yard Lord Of The Night stakes at Aqueduct. The duo forms the 3-5 morning-line favorite.
Jacobson will also send out Candyman E in the Toboggan, winner of the Spooky Mulder in his last start, the third of a formidable triumvirate for the trainer. C.C. Lopez has the mount on the 7-year-old gelding, who sits at 5-1 on the morning line, and the pair will break from post position 7.
Rounding out the field are Sensational Slam, second in an optional claimer at the Big A last out; Don Tito, who finished a half-length ahead of Sensational Slam in his latest start; Non Stop, most recently a winner of a starter allowance race on New Year's Day at Aqueduct; Bet the Power, who took an optional claimer on December 11 at Aqueduct when last on the track; and Dads Caps, second behind Candyman E in the Spooky Mulder on December 13 at the Big A.