Shadwell Stable’s homebred Takaful, who tired to third as the 4-5 favorite in the November 26 Remsen (G2), hopes to bounce right back in Monday’s $150,000 Jerome S. (G3).

A mile-and-70-yard affair on Aqueduct’s inner track, the Jerome is the first Kentucky Derby (G1) scoring race of 2017, awarding points to the top four finishers, respectively, on a sliding scale of 10-4-2-1. The Jerome also kicks off New York’s series of Derby preps, which continues with the February 4 Withers (G3), the March 4 Gotham (G3), and the April 8 Wood Memorial (G2).

The well-bred Takaful stamped himself as one to follow with a front-running, eight-length rout in his career debut at Belmont Park. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee tried to stretch out from that 6 1/2-furlong sprint to 1 1/8 miles in the Remsen, and found the abrupt jump up in distance too far. With that experience under his belt, Takaful is eligible to do better in this second try over a route. He figures to use his early speed to good effect from post 3.

But Takaful probably won’t have things all his own way up front, thanks to Maryland shipper El Areeb. Based at Laurel with trainer Cathal Lynch, the $340,000 two-year-old in training purchase has conquered his last two by a margin of 14 lengths combined. El Areeb also owns a field-best 102 BRIS Speed rating from his wire-to-wire romp in the November 19 James F. Lewis III S. Although yet to race past six furlongs, El Areeb is bred to cope with this distance, and Aqueduct’s inner track is usually conducive to speed.

McLaughlin’s other runner, True Timber, wouldn’t mind if stablemate Takaful and El Areeb duke it out early. Unlike speedy Takaful, True Timber is a deep closer with a late-maturing pedigree. By Mineshaft and out of a Tiznow mare, True Timber was unsurprisingly outrun early in his six-furlong maiden win on this track. But he kept on steadily to pull clear late, despite going wide and scrimmaging down the stretch. The Calumet Farm colorbearer must step up to face established stakes horses in this spot, but he stands to improve with maturity and added ground.  

Blueblood Win with Pride hails from the Todd Pletcher barn. The $450,000 Keeneland September yearling broke his maiden going a mile and 70 yards at Parx on Halloween, then endured a wide trip in the Remsen, where he was only a head back of Takaful in fourth. Interestingly, Win with Pride’s pedigree is virtually a mirror image of Takaful’s. While Takaful is by Bernardini and out of a mare by Distorted Humor, Win with Pride is a son of Distorted Humor, and his dam, multiple Grade 1 heroine Love and Pride, is a close relative of Bernardini. Pletcher also sends out Bonus Points, who was third in Belmont Park’s Awad S. on turf prior to a rallying second in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity on the Laurel dirt.

The Rudy Rodriguez-trained Everybodyluvsrudy, a distant fifth in the Hopeful (G1) on Labor Day, comes off a three-length maiden score. He was previously runner-up in a maiden behind super-impressive Mo Town, who went on to win the Remsen. Everybodyluvsrudy is from the first crop of 2012 Belmont (G1) winner Union Rags, and Jerome rival The Walk is by one of Union Rags’ old foes, Hansen. Conditioned by Tom Albertrani for West Point Thoroughbreds, The Walk was most recently second in the December 2 King’s Swan at six furlongs here, and now tackles two turns for the first time. 

Takaful photo courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Robert Mauhar