This year’s prep schedule starts things off with a bang with pair of graded stakes races at Aqueduct and Gulfstream for three-year old thoroughbreds.
The first race of note is Saturday’s Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct followed by the running of this year’s Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream. The following are a pair of my top sports picks for each of these exciting graded stakes events as a solid exacta bet.
Jerome Stakes- Aqueduct Racetrack
The Jerome is a Grade 3 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds and it is contested on a dirt track over a distance of 8.32 furlongs. The total prize purse for this year’s race is $200,000.
The early field for Saturday’s race at Aqueduct is shaping-up to be a good one with nine horses listed as entered. Despite the strong field, the one entry that stands out from all the rest in my book is Vorticity. This three-year old Kentucky-bred colt is trained by James Lawrence and ridden by veteran jockey Jose Ortiz and this duo helped him claim his first big victory as a juvenile in the Marylander Stakes at Laurel Park on Dec. 5.
Vorticity started his racing career with a third-place finish in a Maiden Special Weight race at Laurel on Oct. 10 and he posted his first career victory on Nov. 8 in another MSW race at Aqueduct at a distance of seven furlongs.
Another strong contender for this year’s Jerome Stakes is Flexibility. He has one of the highest power ratings with Horse Racing Nation in this race at 5.45. Another big plus is a strong second-place run in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 28 to give himself a bit of a home-track advantage. This three-year old colt was bred in New York and he is trained by Chad Brown with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. expected to get the ride on Saturday.
This was Flexibility’s third-straight finish in the money after posting a victory in a MSW race at Belmont Park in early October followed by a another second-place finish in the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 4.
Hutcheson Stakes- Gulfstream Park
This is another Grade 3 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds with a total prize purse of $100,000. This graded event is contested on dirt over a distance of six furlongs.
The 2016 Hutcheson Stakes has a smaller field of seven horses listed as entered on Saturday’s card, but it should be a very competitive race with four horses rated by HRN. The Florida bred Sheikh of Sheikhs should be the morning line favorite following his recent victory in the Kee Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 31. He is also an attractive pick with the highest HRN rating in the field at 5.45.
Trainer Wesley Ward and jockey Joel Rasario gives him a very favorable combination as he begins his career as a three-year old. Sheikh of Sheikhs made his racing debut with a victory in a MSW race at Saratoga in late August and he placed sixth in a very strong field in the 2015 Grade 1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 3
My second choice for Saturday’s Hutcheson is Awesome Banner. Trained by Stanley Gold and ridden by Jose Caraballo, he only has one race on his juvenile resume all the way back in June, but it was a victory in a MSW race at Gulfstream.
This pick may be a bit of a reach given that this three-year old colt could go off with the fourth or even fifth-best sports odds, but I like the fact that he has experience running at this rack. Sometimes in a shorter race like this with a relatively inexperienced field, this kind of familiarity can make all the difference in the world.