Da' Tara, who exploited a field lacking speed to the fullest in winning the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) this spring, could be in a position to do it again in the $150,000 Jerome Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park Oct. 5.
Trainer Nick Zito scratched Da' Tara from the Meadowlands Cup (gr. II) in New Jersey on the night of Oct. 3 in favor of the Jerome.
Da' Tara scored a front-running, 5 1/4-length victory in the Belmont June 7 after Triple Crown contender Big Brown pulled up. Since then, Da’ Tara has had two off-the-board finishes, but Zito is gambling that his speed will pay off again in the Jerome, which is for 3-year-olds at a mile. Seven are entered.
Zito has also entered Cool Coal Man , who was third behind Big Brown and stablemate Coal Play in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3.
Channing Hill will have the mount on Da' Tara, and Jose Lezcano will ride Cool Coal Man. They will run as an entry from posts 5 and 6, respectively, for owner Robert LaPenta.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will also be represented by a pair -- Zayat Stable’s Z Humor and Stronach Stable's Harlem Rocker.
Z Humor woke up with the return of blinkers when he pressed the pace and ran third in Monmouth’s Long Branch July 12. Bravo has the mount on Z Humor, who drew the rail in the Jerome and should be pushing Da' Tara on the front end.
Harlem Rocker was fourth in the 1 1/4-mile Travers presented by Shadwell Farm (gr. I) behind Colonel John , Mambo in Seattle and Pyro. He has won four of six career starts for Pletcher including Aqueduct’s Withers (gr. III) at the Jerome distance on April 26.
Team Valor International’s Visionaire won in the slop at Saratoga and then closed out his summer campaign by taking the King’s Bishop (gr. I) against 3-year-olds on Travers Day Aug. 23.
Earlier this year, Visionaire came out of the clouds and out of the fog on Aqueduct’s inner dirt track to steal the Gotham (gr. III) by a nose from Texas Wildcatter. He then went to Kentucky, where he ran fifth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland, 12th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and third in the Northern Dancer (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.
“The key to him is simply if there is enough pace in the race,” said trainer Michael Matz, who will ship in the morning of the race from Fair Hill, Md. “After the Gotham, we went longer and eventually, a mile and a quarter in the Derby. We’ve been shortening him up, and a good pace suits his style much better.”
Breaking from the far outside is Charles E. Fipke’s Tale of Ekati , whose only win in six tries this year came in Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial (gr. I) April 5. He followed that effort with a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, a troubled sixth in the Belmont Stakes, a fourth in Saratoga’s Jim Dandy (gr. II) and a seventh in the Travers.
The Jerome will be the shortest distance the Tale of the Cat colt has raced since he won Belmont's Futurity (gr. II) at seven furlongs more than a year ago for trainer Barclay Tagg.
“We’re going to try him at his mile and hope that is his best distance,” Tagg said. "His only grade I win was at a mile and an eighth. But we’re going to try the mile anyway.”
Edmund A. Gann’s You and I Forever, an A.P. Indy colt trained by Bill Mott, was beaten a neck at Saratoga going nine furlongs by Mambo in Seattle in the Henry Walton Stakes. That race was run just before the day’s featured Jim Dandy and his effort moved Mambo in Seattle to the Travers, where he was beaten a scant nose by Colonel John.
You and I Forever went to Philadelphia Park for the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) on Sept. 1, finishing eighth while beaten six lengths.
“The Pennsylvania Derby was a tough race,” said Mott. “He drew post 13 and that didn’t help at all. He had a little bit of trouble at the half-mile pole, but then he came wide. He flattened out and that was a little disappointing. But I think he is a good horse, and I think his race against Mambo in Seattle proves that. Maybe by turning him back to a mile we can get him back on track.”
$150,000 Jerome Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Z Humor (KY), 115, Joe Bravo
2. You and I Forever (KY), 115, Javier Castellano
3. Visionaire (KY), 120, Alan Garcia
4. Harlem Rocker (ON), 118, Eibar Coa
5. Da' Tara (KY), 122, Channing Hill
6. Cool Coal Man (KY), 117, Jose Lezcano
7. Tale of Ekati (KY), 119, Cornelio H. Velasquez