He started a bit on the wrong foot, but Independence Hall gave his many backers a big sigh of relief by otherwise dominating Wednesday's $150,000 Jerome S. at Aqueduct, the first 2020 Road to the Kentucky Derby series prep of the year for newly-turned 3-year-olds.

Despite breaking last in the field of six, the 1-10 favorite was back in contention before leaving Aqueduct's backstretch chute, hounded the leader until taking over around the far turn, and was kept to business by jockey Jose Ortiz to win the one-mile test by four lengths in a time of 1:37.27 over a good track.

"He broke a bit slow today because he wasn't standing the right way," Ortiz said. "It was a small field and I was able to put him in the clear. I didn't want to get stuck in behind horses today and try to be a hero. I got the opportunity to ride him like he was the best horse and I did."

Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, Kathleen Verratti, and Robert Verratti, Independence Hall paid $2.20. Prince of Pharoahs and Inside Risk finished in a dead heat for second, while Celtic Striker finished more than 15 lengths behind the winner in fourth.

A stakes-record winner over the track-and-distance Nashua (G3) in early November, Independence Hall earned his first 10 Derby qualifying points with the victory. Prince of Pharoahs and Inside Risk earned three points each, splitting the four and two points awarded to the second- and third-place finishers, while Celtic Striker earned one point.

"From the quarter pole to the wire he did very well. He didn't look like he did last time, but these are a little better horses and I think the track is very tiring today," Ortiz said.

Independence Hall will now head south for his next Derby prep.

"I'll talk to the partners but I think the plan will be next week to head down to Tampa and train down there and get out of this weather and get him ready for the next step," said trainer Mike Trombetta. "It could be the Sam F. Davis ([G3] on February 8), it's on the radar in five weeks."

Independence Hall, who is undefeated from three starts with earnings of $210,000, is by Constitution and out of the Cape Town mare Kalahari Cat, who has also reared Spiral (G3) scorer Black Onyx. Costing $100,000 at Keeneland September, Independence Hall was bred in Kentucky by Woodford Thoroughbreds.

(Coglianese Photography)