Kensei, who won the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park earlier this season, returns to the New York oval Oct. 11 to lead a field of five in the $150,000 Jerome Handicap (gr. II) for 3-year-olds going one mile on the main track.
Owned by Stonestreet Stables and Gulf Coast Farms, Kensei will carry top weight of 121 pounds and give three to seven pounds to his rivals. The 7-5 morning-line choice will be ridden by Edgar Prado.
When last seen, Kensei tired badly to finish sixth in the Aug. 29 Shadwell Travers (gr. I), more than 25 lengths back of the winner, Summer Bird. Prior that effort, the son of Mr. Greeley won the July 4 Dwyer by 3 1/4 lengths for his first stakes triumph, and shipped north to take the Aug. 1 Jim Dandy (gr. II) at Saratoga.
Kensei, bred in Kentucky by Gulf Coast Farms and out of the Belong to Me mare Private Feeling, stayed at Saratoga to work toward the Jerome. He last breezed Oct. 5, getting four furlongs in :49.03. He will take a 4-1-1 record from eight starts and earnings of $538,628 into the contest.
“We just kind of circled this race and thought the timing was good to shorten him back to a mile,” said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “He’s training absolutely phenomenally at Saratoga.
“We’re still kind of learning (his best distance). His race in the Jim Dandy was dominating. He won with authority. (The Jerome) is straight 3-year olds, and it looked like a good spot. He couldn’t be doing any better.”
Godolphin Stable’s Girolamo could present the biggest challenge to Kensei. The highly-touted son of A.P. Indy makes his first stakes appearance of the season after wins in a seven-furlong allowance at Saratoga in August and a one-mile optional claimer at Belmont Sept. 13. They were his only two starts of 2009.
As a juvenile, Girolamo romped in his debut, then was ambitiously placed in the Futurity (gr. II) and Champagne (gr. I) Stakes, finishing off the board in both. He turned in a swift five-furlong move in :59.44 Oct. 2 in preparation for the Jerome. Alan Garcia will ride the 8-5 morning-line second choice for Saeed bin Suroor.
A victory could catapult Girolamo into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or the Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile (gr. I) on Nov. 28 at Aqueduct, but his connections are not looking far past this race.
"He’s coming out of a two-other-than (allowance), so let’s let him run this weekend in the Jerome,” said Rick Mettee, assistant to bin Suroor. “He’s got to run against Kensei, who’s a pretty tough horse.
"He’s still an immature horse, so we didn’t take him down to the Pennsylvania Derby or the Indiana Derby. We kept him around here. He’s got the tools, but he’s not real battle-tested.”
Hoping to rebound in the Jerome is Lael Stable’s Pitched Perfectly, a Barclay Tagg trainee who has failed in all four of his stakes efforts this season. Pitched Perfectly, the pacesetter in the Lexington Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland in April before fading to fifth, scored his lone victory of the season in a wire-to-wire optional claimer Aug. 23 at Saratoga. He enters off a 27-length setback in Monmouth Park’s Big Brown Stakes on the slop Sept. 27.
Completing the field are Denver, third in Delaware Park’s Barbaro Stakes (gr. III) in July, and Burley's Gold, an Ohio-bred son of Touch Gold who won a one-mile allowance race at Belmont on the slop Sept. 12.
$150,000 Jerome Handicap (gr. II, Race 4, 2:35 p.m.), 3YO, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Denver (KY), C H Velasquez, 115, T A Pletcher
2. Burley's Gold (OH), R A Dominguez, 114, R E Dutrow, Jr.
3. Girolamo (KY), A Garcia, 118, S bin Suroor
4. Kensei (KY), E S Prado, 121, S M Asmussen
5. Pitched Perfectly (KY), J Lezcano, 114, B Tagg