While purists may find it odd that the $150,000 Jerome S. (G2), contested 140 times previously, will be run this coming Saturday at Aqueduct rather than occupying a traditional fall slot, the historic one-mile fixture will more than adequately fill the role of the race it has temporarily replaced as a potential prep for the May 21 Preakness S. (G1).
The Jerome, which was put on hiatus last fall, returns in the spot of another ancient feature, the Withers S. (G3), which itself was put on hiatus for 2011. In recent years the Withers has yielded a Preakness winner in Bernardini and a Preakness runner-up in Scrappy T, and Saturday's Jerome could produce a pair of Preakness starters in ASTROLOGY (A.P. Indy) and CAL NATION (Distorted Humor).
The Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirations of the Steve Asmussen-trained Astrology were ground to a halt in recent weeks as wintertime setbacks restricted the bay to only one start this season. That performance, a solid second in the March 27 Sunland Derby (G3) off a four-month layoff, followed a victory in the Iroquois S. (G3) and a half-length second in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) over the Churchill strip last November.
"We feel that running him in the Kentucky Derby off one prep race is too much to ask of him at this point," Asmussen said earlier this week. "We think the Jerome is a nice spot for him coming off the Sunland Derby, a race in which he ran hard. We still feel that he will be a major three-year-old this year."
Cal Nation, who races for last year's Derby-winning owner-trainer team of WinStar Farm and Todd Pletcher, was a popular debut winner by 7 3/4 lengths going seven furlongs at Gulfstream on February 5. Sent away as a 3-10 favorite in his March 19 allowance debut over the same track, Cal Nation was upset by stablemate Dance City (City Zip), who went on to finish third in last week's Arkansas Derby (G1).
The regally-bred Cal Nation is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner and dual classic-placed Bluegrass Cat (Storm Cat), and from the extended family of WinStar's Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. His fourth dam is 1971 juvenile filly champion and influential broodmare Numbered Account (Buckpasser).
RATTLESNAKE BRIDGE (Tapit) and GALLANT DREAMS (Bernardini), who occupied the respective place and show positions behind the Pletcher-trained Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) in the March 12 Timely Writer S. at Gulfstream, are in the Jerome to enhance their classic prospects as well.
Rattlesnake Bridge entered the Timely Writer off a debut score one month earlier, and ran well to finish second by 3 3/4 lengths to the juvenile champion. Gallant Dreams, who had not raced since breaking his maiden in late October, finished 9 1/2 lengths behind Uncle Mo and could use the Jerome as a stepping stone toward the Belmont S. (G1) in June.
The Jerome field is rounded out by recent Bay Shore S. (G3) third-placer JUSTIN PHILLIP (First Samurai); last-out maiden winner ADIOS CHARLIE (Indian Charlie); and ISN'T HE PERFECT (Pleasantly Perfect) and STARSHIP CAESAR (Repent), both of whom were unplaced in the Wood Memorial S. (G1) and Gotham S. (G3).