Veteran campaigner Strapping Groom, winner of the Forego Stakes (gr. I) over a muddy track last year, has been installed the 7-5 morning line choice in the field of seven drawn for the March 1 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack.
A 7-year-old horse who races for meet-leading owners and trainer Drawing Away Stable and David Jacobson, Strapping Groom comes into the six-furlong Tom Fool off a 6 1/2-length victory in the Gravesend Handicap over a good Aqueduct surface in December. The son of Johannesburg—who has nine wins and eight placings to his credit from 26 starts—has won four times and placed twice in stakes company since being claimed by his current connections for $35,000 at Belmont Park last May.
Irad Ortiz Jr., Aqueduct's leading rider during the current meet, will be aboard Strapping Groom as they break from the inside post position under top weight of 123 pounds. In between his Forego victory at Saratoga Race Course and the Gravesend, Strapping Groom finished third in the Vosburgh Invitational (gr. I) in September, fourth in the Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III) in October, and second, while carrying 135 pounds, in the Fall Highweight Handicap (gr. III) in November.
Jacobson has also entered Candyman E, a 7-year-old Candy Ride gelding who has victories in the Toboggan Stakes (gr. III) and Spooky Mulder Stakes since being claimed by the trainer on behalf of Gold Square LLC and himself for $62,500 at Belmont last October. With a career tally of 10-3-3 in 21 starts, Candyman E will break from the 2 post under C. C. Lopez. He is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
Candyman E, winner of the 2011 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, has competed against Strapping Groom once before. Then racing for Kuehne Racing, he wound up second to that rival by 1 3/4 lengths in the restricted Kid Russell Stakes in August at Saratoga.
Jacobson said there is a possibility only one of his charges will start in the Tom Fool, noting that their training regimens had been interrupted by inclement weather that has negatively impacted the Aqueduct meet.
"Right now, we've had a little difficulty with training because of weather conditions," said Jacobson. "When the track has been open, the track has been in great shape. When we have days when we can't train, it seems to hurt Strapping Groom more than Candyman E. Weather permitting, I'm going to train up to the race and make a decision on which one will run, or both.
"They have similar styles of racing, but if were running today I'd probably run them both," Jacobson continued. "They're both training very well. Strapping Groom is just a little behind because of the weather."
The Tom Fool offers an opportunity for Dads Caps, a 4-year-old colt by Discreet Cat , to avenge two consecutive runner-up finishes to Candyman E in the Spooky Mulder and Toboggan.
Rudy Rodriguez, who trains Daps Caps for breeder Vincent Scuderi, credited Jacobson for his work with Candyman E and is looking for better racing luck this time.
"David Jacobson has done an excellent job with the horses he is training," said Rodriguez. "I'm hoping (Candyman E) bounces a little bit and we move forward a little bit. Candyman E is a game horse, and he loves the inner track. We'll give Dads Caps another chance and hope we can get lucky. (In the Spooky Mulder) we had a little excuse because he broke through the gate (before the race), but (in the Toboggan) we had everything go our way but (Candyman E) came and got us. He passed us like we were standing still, so we had no excuse."
Cornelio Velasquez, who rode Candyman E in the Spooky Mulder and Dads Caps in the Toboggan, has the assignment aboard Dads Caps on Saturday. Dads Caps, 3-1 on the morning line, drew post 4.
Saturday's Charm, Non Stop, Sensational Slam, and Jake N Elwood complete the field.
$200,000 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III, Race 4, approximate post 1:52 p.m. EST), 3YO& Up, 6 Furlongs (dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Strapping Groom (KY), I Ortiz Jr., 123, D Jacobson, 7-5
2. Candyman E (KY), C C Lopez, 120, D Jacobson, 5-2
3. Saturday's Charm (KY), J L Ortiz, 115, S M Asmussen, 15-1
4. Dads Caps (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, R R Rodriguez, 3-1
5. Non Stop (KY), A Lezcano, 114, D A Cannizzo, 10-1
6. Sensational Slam (ON), A Castellano, 114, P J Quick, 12-1
7. Jake N Elwood (PA), M Franco, 114, D P Duggan, 20-1