The Jerome S. at Aqueduct is one of the oldest stakes races in North America, but its status as a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race is much more recent development.
First run in 1866 at long-gone Jerome Park, the Jerome was held for many years in mid-September, serving as a prestigious 1-mile prize for talented 3-year-olds. From the 1940s through 1960s, the roster of Jerome winners read like a “who’s who” of champions and Horses of the Year, including Hall of Fame inductees Coaltown, Hill Prince, Tom Fool, Bold Ruler, Kelso, and Carry Back.
Even during quieter periods, accomplished horses bolstered the Jerome’s reputation. Aristides, winner of the inaugural Kentucky Derby, claimed the Jerome in 1875, while Fusaichi Pegasus replicated the Derby/Jerome double in 2000.
The Jerome held Grade 1 status from 1984 through 1994, but slowly lost its status as richer races crowded the calendar. In 2013, the New York Racing Association shifted the Jerome from Belmont to Aqueduct and changed its date to early January, allowing the historic race to re-envision itself as a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race.
Slowly but surely, the Jerome has settled into its new position. Vyjack used victory in the Jerome as a springboard to competing in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, as did 2018 Jerome champion Firenze Fire. By offering Kentucky Derby qualification points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis, the Jerome has helped fill a winter void on the New York circuit, offering Derby hopefuls a chance to gain a foothold on the qualification leaderboard without shipping out of state.
By J. Keeler Johnson