Favored at 4-5 in his third career start, Noble Moon posted a two-length decision in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Jerome at Aqueduct, winning the first significant test of 2014 for three-year-olds. The Leah Gyarmati-trained colt completed a mile and 70 yards in 1:45 on the fast inner track, scoring in front-running fashion beneath new rider Irad Oritz Jr.
"It was perfect. He broke a little slowly, but then he put me in the race," Ortiz said. "He's got a big, long stride. I asked him at the quarter-pole and he picked it right up."
By virtue of the win, Noble Moon joins the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Leaderboard with 10 points.
Owned by Treadway Racing Stable, Noble Moon brushed with a rival leaving his innermost post position and sat just off longshot Pin and Win through an opening quarter-mile in :24. That rival showed the way into the backstretch before giving way to Noble Moon, who reached the half-mile point in :48 1/5 with a half-length advantage.
Noble Moon carried a short lead through the far turn, completing three-quarters in 1:13 2/5 before facing a challenge from Classic Giacnroll on the outside and a rail-skimming Scotland entering the stretch drive. The bay colt dug in gamely to reassert control in midstretch and won going away under the finish line.
"I told (Irad), 'If he gets out and gets a clear lead and can do it easily, great. If somebody else wants it, let them have it and get outside,'" Gyarmati said. "I thought the fractions were fair enough for him. I know he's fit.
"I was hoping that if he did make the lead he'd be there by himself, and not have horses right on top of him. It was nice that I'd seen him go wire-to-wire and horses come at him late; you might have thought he'd get tired (but) he fights."
Noble Moon paid $3.60 to win. Classic Giacnroll wound up a clear second as the 7-2 second choice in the wagering. Scotland held third by a diminishing head over Matuszak, with Lawmaker another nose back in fifth in the three-horse photo. Mental Iceberg, Master Lightning and Pin and Win rounded out the order of finish.
Noble Moon captured his career debut, a six-furlong maiden special weight at Belmont Park on September 14, in wire-to-wire fashion, but he missed the break when making his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Nashua on November 3 and trailed early in the 12-horse field. After being carried extremely wide into the stretch, he closed fast for third-place honors.
The son of Malibu Moon was entered in the November 30 Remsen but was scratched after coming down with hives the night before. Noble Moon returned from a 62-day freshening Saturday to earn his first stakes win.
"It's a good sign that he can win and go two turns and fight them off, whether he's on the lead or not," Gyarmati said. "As a rider, you can maneuver him, so that's always handy.
"He's going to have to step it up again, obviously, because there are some nice horses out there beyond Aqueduct."
Bred in Virginia by the Estate of Edward P. Evans, Noble Moon sold for $200,000 as a weanling at the 2011 Keeneland November sale before being acquired by his owners for the same sales price at the 2012 Keeneland September sale.
He is out of the winning Mambo Bell, a daughter of Kingmambo who is also the dam of Grade 2-placed Mambo Fever. The 13-year-old broodmare is a half-sister to Grade 2 winners Silver Music and Musical Ghost as well as the multiple stakes queen Prospector's Song.
Gyarmati was asked about Noble Moon's next start.
"We might skip the Withers (on February 1) and go to the next one (the Grade 3 Gotham on March 1)," the trainer said. "Maybe (owner) Jeff (Treadway) has another one for the Withers."
Treadway and Gyarmati are planning on running last-out maiden winner Street Gent in the Grade 3 Withers.