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The first weekend of racing of 2024 will not bring us any marquee events, but there are still a handful of interesting stakes races around the country. We’ll focus on New York and Aqueduct as we try to keep a winning streak of cashing tickets going on Saturday. Leading the way will be the Jerome Stakes, which offers qualifying points to the 2024 Kentucky Derby.
Drum Roll Please, coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Remsen, should be a solid favorite in the one-mile feature for trainer Brad Cox. The other stakes race of the day at the Big A will feature a field of six older females and is topped by Comparative, another Cox-trainee. Without further ado, let’s get to my best bets in four of the strongest races from the solid afternoon of racing.
With Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the line, Drum Roll Please looks like the one they will have to beat when he headlines a compact field of five sophomore males in the one-mile Jerome Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct.
A Pennsylvania-bred son of Hard Spun, the Brad Cox-trained runner was an impressive winner of a one-mile maiden race at Aqueduct two starts back after finishing second to future Grade 1 winner Locked in the start before that. Most recently, he finished a solid third in the Grade 2 Remsen on a muddy track, going 9-furlongs.
Chief among his competition in the $150,000 feature will be the New York-bred El Grande O. Twice a stakes winner against fellow state-breds for trainer Linda Rice, the son of Take Charge Indy brings plenty of early speed to the Jerome. After fading out of the picture in the Grade 1 Champagne two starts back, he rebounded to score in Aqueduct’s Sleepy Hollow last out.
Another interesting contender on Saturday is the Maryland shipper Regalo. After a solid second-place finish at Pimlico, he has rattled off two straight wins at Laurel Park. Trained by Brittany Russell, he is getting better with each start. The Maximus Mischief colt should also sit a nice trip behind the early speed. He will be the top pick to pull off the upset.
$20 Win & Place - Regalo = $40
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In the afternoon’s other stakes race, trainer Brad Cox may once again saddle the favorite when he sends out Comparative to take on five other older females in the 9-furlong Ladies Stakes at the Big A.
A 4-year-old daughter of Street Sense, she has won three of her last four races. The bay filly won two straight earlier this year at Fair Grounds and Keeneland before finishing a troubled trip eighth in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan. She returned recently from a six-month layoff to score a facile victory going one mile in an Aqueduct allowance race.
Her most dangerous competition in the $150,000 Ladies looks to be the Brittany Russell-trained Saddle Up Jessie. The More Than Ready mare will be shipping up from Laurel Park where she has won two straight. Most recently, she dominated in the 9-furlong Carousel, which came just two weeks ago.
None of the other four mares in the field are out of this and are led by Know It All Audrey, who won the Empire Distaff two starts back, and Evidencias, who is a Group 1 winner in her native Brazil. Overall, though, I really like the recent form of Saddle Up Jessie. She is the top pick
$20 Exacta Part Wheel - Saddle Up Jessie over Comparative and Evidencias = $40
$10 Exacta Part Wheel - Comparative and Evidencias over Saddle Up Jessie = $20
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In this one-mile event for older male maidens, Egypt and Lucency, who were second and third respectively in a similar race four weeks ago, could vie for favoritism among a field of six.
After doing little in his first two career starts, Egypt has really come around for trainer Horacio De Paz following an eight-month layoff. In his return, he was prominent throughout and ultimately finished a game second over a sloppy Aqueduct track. Last out, he finished ahead of a couple of horses in this field when he rallied up the rail to grab a clear second.
Lucency, meanwhile, has run well in each of his three lifetime starts and will be making his second start for the Rick Dutrow, Jr. barn. Last time, the Tapwrit chestnut made a nice bid on the outside before being passed down the lane and settling for third-place money.
Another to watch out for on Saturday is Hero’s Medal. He has had plenty of chances but has been knocking on the door of late. Perhaps more importantly, he will be making his first start for trainer Linda Rice after being claimed for $75,000 out of a runner-up performance at Churchill Downs. He will be the top pick.
$10 Exacta Part Wheel - Hero’s Reward over Egypt and Lucency = $20
$10 Exacta Part Wheel - Lucency over Egypt and Hero’s Reward = $20
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In the fourth play of the day at Aqueduct on Saturday, I will turn to this 7-furlong allowance race for older males. Several in the field have stakes experience, including High Oak, who finished second in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler two starts back.
Trained by Bill Mott, the 5-year-old son of Gormley was a bit overmatched against Grade 1 company when eighth in the Cigar Mile last time, but should appreciate the drop in class. A graded stakes winner back in 2021, he looks like the one to beat off both back class and recent form.
High Oak’s entry-mate Set Sail also has flashed talent but will need to rebound from a poor effort last time out. Beachwalker, meanwhile, does not have the stakes background of several of the others in the field, but is in good form and has run solid efforts in the last few weeks at Aqueduct.
Jeff Fa Fa and Joey Freshwater are both stakes winners and should both flash early speed on Saturday. I think their likely solid early pace will only benefit the chances of High Oak and his strong late rally. He is the top pick.
$50 Win - High Oak = $50
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Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
Email: [email protected]
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