In a new position replacing the Count Fleet on the New York Racing Association calendar Jan. 5, the one-mile, 70-yard Jerome won't help with qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But it leads to three qualifiers, the Feb. 2 Withers (gr. III), the March 2 Gotham (gr. III), and the $1 million Wood Memorial (gr. I) April 6, New York's major prep for the Kentucky Derby.
Favored at 2-1 on the morning line is Pick Six Racing's Vyjack, undefeated in two starts at Aqueduct. The son of Into Mischief scored by 1 3/4 lengths in his Nov. 10 debut, then romped home 5 3/4 lengths clear over a sloppy track in the Dec. 9 Traskwood overnight stakes.
"He'll be stretching out, going around two turns, and trying the inner track for the first time," said trainer Rudy Rodriguez. "It will be a learning experience for him, and for us. It's a very competitive race, but he's been training very well."
Cornelio Velasquez will be in the irons as Vyjack leaves post 2.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who took last year's Count Fleet with eventual Travers (gr. I) co-winner Alpha, sends out Darley Stable's impeccably bred Long River, a gutsy inner-track maiden winner three weeks ago. The son of A.P. Indy and 2006 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner Round Pond was seventh in his September debut at Belmont Park, and then finished a game second to Delhomme—later third in the Remsen (gr. II)—going a mile Oct. 13.
"It's a big step up for him, going from a maiden to a grade II, but you have to have some dreams and hopes," said McLaughlin, who on Jan. 5 also will saddle favored Asiya in the co-featured Busanda for 3-year-old fillies. "He's got the pedigree to go any distance, and we're willing to give him a try."
Listed at 5-2 on the morning line, Long River will leave post 3 with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard.
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who won the Derby and Preakness (gr. I) last year with I'll Have Another, is hoping newly-acquired Mudflats will take him back to Churchill Downs. Debuting in the same Belmont race as Long River, in which he finished fourth, Mudflats next finished third behind Delhomme and Long River. He was purchased privately by Little Red Feather Racing following his Dec. 8 maiden victory at Aqueduct. Jockey Junior Alvarado will be in the saddle aboard the gray gelding by Tapit, 3-1 on the morning line.
"He's a beautiful-looking individual," O'Neill said. "His maiden victory was very impressive, and I love the fact that Junior Alvarado is high on him as well. We're looking for a strong performance from him, something we can build on, and hopefully he will be a first Saturday in May kind of horse."
Testing the waters in his second start on dirt is Mike Repole's Notacatbutallama, runner-up to Smooth Bert in the Dec. 9 Damon Runyon for New York-breds. The Harlan's Holiday colt made his first six starts on the turf, emerging with three victories, two seconds and a fourth-place finish.
"He's been a very durable 2-year-old," trainer Todd Pletcher remarked. "He's a high-energy kind of colt who seems to bounce out his races really quickly. We were encouraged by his first race on the dirt. I thought he got a little lost when he made the lead, and never saw the winner coming up the rail.
"As a New York-bred, there are a lot of options on the turf this summer. This is a step up in competition, and how he does could determine whether he will get a freshening to await those, or remain on this trail."
Immediately preceding the Jerome, which will be run as race 8 with a post time of 3:48 p.m. EST, will be the 40th edition of the Busanda at 3:18 p.m. EST. Also at a mile and 70 yards and a qualifier on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) with points of 10-4-2-1 going to the top four finishers, the race drew a field of six, with Asiya narrowly favored over the Pletcher-trained Princess of Sylmar (5-2).
"She's a very nice filly," said McLaughlin of Asiya, who was third in her debut at Belmont Oct. 11 and broke her maiden by 11 lengths Dec. 9. "Going from a seven-furlong maiden win to a stakes race going long is a big step, but she's very talented and we think she will run well."
Eddie Castro will be in the irons when the Daaher filly leaves the 3 hole.
After finishing a disappointing fourth going 5 1/2 furlongs in October at Penn National, Princess of Sylmar rebounded a month later with a 19-length romp in a one-mile maiden event and next scored an easy 5 1/4-length win in an optional claimer Dec. 13 at Aqueduct.
"We wanted to take advantage of her being a Pennsylvania-bred, but she won so convincingly she earned her way to New York," said Pletcher, who will also saddle Repole Stable's Coconut Shrimp. "The stretch out has helped her a lot."