A field of seven newly minted 3-year-olds will look to start 2017 off right on Monday's special holiday card at Aqueduct Racetrack as New York's road to the Kentucky Derby makes its first stop of the year in the Grade 3, $150,000 Jerome at a mile and 70 yards on the inner track.
As an official prep stakes for the Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs, the Jerome winner will receive 10 qualifying points toward a berth in the "Run for the Roses," with four points going to second, two to third and one to fourth.
Kiaran McLaughlin will be represented by a talented pair of runners in Takaful, third in the Grade 2 Remsen November 26, and True Timber, an inner-track maiden winner on December 10, the trainer's first Jerome runners since 2011.
Shadwell Stable's homebred Takaful posted an eye-catching, eight-length victory while going six furlongs in his October 29 debut at Belmont Park. In his next start, he stretched out around two turns in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen, where he set a keen early pace and held on in the stretch to finish six lengths behind Mo Town as the 4-5 favorite under Jose Ortiz, who retains the mount in the Jerome.
Takaful, by Bernardini and out of an unraced Distorted Humor mare, breezed a bullet half-mile on December 23 over the Belmont training track, covering the distance in 47 1/5 in preparation for the Jerome. Tabbed as the even-money favorite, Takaful will break from post 3.
"He's been doing great since [the Remsen]," said McLaughlin by phone from his winter training base in South Florida. "He had a fast work the other day and we're happy to have Jose Ortiz back from his wedding and back on the horse. Hopefully, he breaks cleanly. He broke a little awkward and took off last time with Jose through the first quarter-mile, so we're hoping for a smoother break for things to go well.
"The race is tough," he continued. "I think [El Areeb, trained by Cathal Lynch] is fast. I don't know if he clears us or not, but we want to relax a little bit, so he could easily clear us and we could be laying second. I thought after [Ortiz] reached and grabbed [Takaful] and slowed him down in the Remsen, he laid there pretty well, so I think he could rate, but we'll just have to leave that up to Jose and the horse, but I think the Lynch horse is a pretty nice horse, winning easily last time."
Set to make his stakes debut, True Timber owns a victory over the inner track following his 1 ½-length maiden victory from off the pace on December 10 going six furlongs. A $170,000 weanling purchase for Calumet Farm, the bay son of Mineshaft will be ridden by Kendrick Carmouche from post 4 at 12-1 on the morning line.
"He's a big colt and we always thought he wants to go long, so we're happy to give him a chance stretching out," McLaughlin said. "He's talented and also a beautiful colt, so hopefully he performs well too. It could set up well for him. It's exciting; we'll see how it goes. We've been kind of pointing [to the Jerome] after the maiden win. It's hard to place 2- and 3-year-olds in other races, and we like this opportunity to stretch him out."
Exiting back-to-back wins at Laurel Park, El Areeb will ship up from his Maryland base for his New York unveiling for trainer Cathal Lynch and owners M M G Stables LLC. The gray Exchange Rate colt boasts a field-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure for his front running, 5 ¼-length score in the six-furlong James F. Lewis III on November 19.
As the 3-1 second program choice, El Areeb will retain the services of his regular jockey Trevor McCarthy, who will ride from post 6.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will send Win With Pride, a well-bred Distorted Humor colt owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable. Fourth in the Remsen last time out, Win With Pride is the first foal out of multiple graded stakes winner Love and Pride, who won the Grade 1 Zenyatta and Grade 1 Personal Ensign as a 4-year-old in 2012. Win With Pride, purchased for $450,000 as a yearling, was third in his unveiling over a muddy track at Belmont in September and returned to break his maiden by 2 ¾ lengths around two turns October 31 at Parx Racing.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be aboard Win With Pride, 6-1 on the morning line and set to break from the outside post.
Rounding out the field for the 147th running of the Jerome are fellow Pletcher trainee Bonus Points, runner-up in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity December 10 for Three Diamonds Farm; three-length maiden winner Everybodyluvsrudy from the barn of Rudy Rodriguez for owners Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Michael Imperio; and West Point Thoroughbreds' The Walk, third in the King's Swan last time out for trainer Tom Albertrani.
The field for the Grade 3, $150,000 Jerome: