Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out Cal Nation , another top colt from his deep stable of 3-year-olds, to battle Astrology in the $150,000 Jerome Stakes (gr. II) April 23 at Aqueduct.
WinStar Farm's homebred son of Distorted Humor makes his stakes debut for Pletcher in the one-turn mile event, a stepingstone race that attracted a field of eight. It is the ninth race on the Aqueduct program with a 5:15 EDT post.
Cal Nation, who will be ridden once again by John Velazaquez, has had two starts, both coming at Gulfstream Park. He is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, slightly better than Astrology at 5-2.
In his most recent try, the bay colt battled his stablemate Dance City in a one-mile allowance March 19 as the 3-10 choice and came up a nose short after bobbling at the break. Dance City went on to post a strong third for Pletcher in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 16.
“His second last time was flattered when Dance City ran well in the Arkansas Derby, so he obviously has kept good company,” said Jonathan Thomas, assistant to Pletcher. “He certainly belongs in this field.”
Cal Nation broke his maiden at first asking in a seven-furlong test Feb. 5 by nearly eight lengths under a strong hand ride from Velazquez, again as the favorite. He will break from post 2 in the Jerome.
Trainer Steve Asmussen entered a pair in the Jerome, Astrology and Justin Phillip, and both fit nicely as the major challengers to Cal Nation.
Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton's Astrology, who was touted as a top Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) candidate heading into 2011, simply lost too much time this season due to an illness while training in Southern California.
He has had just one start this year, coming up a little short in the 1 1/8-mile Sunland Derby (gr. III) at Sunland Park March 27. Stonestreet's homebred A.P. Indy colt battled to get the lead in the stretch after stalking the pace for Julien Leparoux but was out-kicked by outsider Twice the Appeal and finished second, beaten by 1 1/2 lengths.
The race could serve as Astrology's prep for either the Preakness (gr. I) or the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
“The Jerome is good timing off his first prep, and it will allow us to not miss all the classic races,” said Scott Blasi, assistant to Asmussen. “We’re not looking past this race, but we do have those races in mind. It’s more or less a prep.”
Astrology owns a 2-2-2 record in six lifetime starts with a field-best earnings total of $328,893. He won the Iroquois Stakes (gr. II) and finished second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II), both at Churchill Downs, as a 2-year-old. Mike Smith will be aboard the bay for the first time and they break from the rail.
Zayat Stables' Justin Phillip was also on the Derby trail earlier this year but after unplaced efforts in the Lecomte (gr. III) and Risen Star (gr. II) stakes at Fair Grounds this winter, Asmussen opted to shorten up the son of First Samurai .
Justin Philip responded with a much-improved third in the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III) April 9 in spite of trouble. He was under a tight hold by jockey Ramon Dominguez and had to wait for room at the quarter pole in his first race at Aqueduct, but was only 1 3/4 lengths behind the victorious J J's Lucky Train .
“He got into trouble in his last race, and deserves another shot,” said Toby Sheets, Asmussen’s New York assistant.
Dominguez is once again aboard Justin Phillip, who breaks from post 7 in search of his first stakes win.
Adios Charlie was a 6 1/2-length maiden winner at Gulfstream March 30 for trainer Stanley Hough.
The Jerome will be the third start for Adios Charlie, who was sidelined with a tibia stress fracture following his debut, a runner-up effort as the 5-2 favorite in a Belmont Park maiden race in October. The son of Indian Charlie was impressive in his graduation race, drawing away under a hand ride.
“I wish I had another race in him, but a mile should be within his range,” said Hough, who owns Adios Charlie in partnership with Robert I. Sahn. “We’ll see how he stacks up against these."
Rattlesnake Bridge, runner-up to Uncle Mo in Gulfstream's Timely Writer Stakes at one mile March 12, and Gallant Dreams, third in that race, also are entered in the Jerome.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Mill House's Rattlesnake Bridge was making just his second start in the Timely Writer after breaking his maiden in his debut a month earlier as the favorite at Gulfstream going six furlongs. Jose Lezcano retains the mount on the gray/roan Tapit colt.
Live Oak Plantation homebred Gallant Dreams, from the Tom Albertrani barn, was 41-1 in the Timely Writer and tired in the stretch in his first start of 2011. Cornelio Velasquez will be the fourth rider in as many starts for the son of Bernardini who broke his maiden at Belmont Park last October.
Two longshots from the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. I) won by Toby's Corner April 9, also return here. Isn't He Perfect ran fifth at 65-1 while Starship Caesar was sixth at 79-1. Both were also unplaced in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct in March.
The Jerome was contested at Belmont Park from 1968-2009, returns to Aqueduct and to the New York Racing Association stakes schedule after being placed on hiatus in 2010. Previously, the race was held at Aqueduct in 1960 and from 1962-1967.
$150,000 Jerome Stakes (gr. II), 3-Year-Olds, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Astrology (KY), M E Smith, 120, S M Asmussen
2. Cal Nation (KY), J R Velazquez, 116, T A Pletcher
3. Gallant Dreams (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, T Albertrani
4. Isn't He Perfect (KY), C Hill, 116, D Shivmangal
5. Rattlesnake Bridge (KY), J Lezcano, 116, K P McLaughlin
6. Starship Caesar (FL), J Valdivia Jr., 116, B Parboo
7. Justin Phillip (KY), R A Dominguez, 116, S M Asmussen
8. Adios Charlie (FL), R Maragh, 116, S M Hough