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Las Virgenes Stakes
Independence Hall with Jose Ortiz aboard return after winning the 2020 Jerome Stakes.
The first stakes of the year in New York is the $150,000 Jerome Stakes, a very early Triple Crown prep at Aqueduct for 3-year-olds going 1 mile around one turn of the main track. It is also a points-scoring race with the winner earning 10 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Conditions were typical for Long Island in January, with cloudy skies, temperatures in the high 30's with 25 MPH wind gusts. Independence Hall was sent off as the 1-10 favorite in the field of 6 (after 1 scratch), undefeated in 2 starts including the Nashua (G3) last out. In to challenge him included 9-2 second choice Bourbon Bay, a maiden winner at second asking last out, and 12-1 third choice Prince of Pharoahs, also a maiden winner at second asking. Due to the short field and very low odds on Independence Hall, show wagering was cancelled.
Independence Hall leads down the stretch in the Jerome Stakes
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 3 Independence Hall Ortiz 2.20 2.10 - 1DH Prince of Pharoahs Carmouche 2.10 - 7DH Bourbon Bay Lezcano 2.10 - Winning Time: 1:37.27 $1 Exacta 3-1 2.15 $1 Exacta 3-7 1.20 $1 Trifecta 3-1-7 4.15 $1 Trifecta 3-7-1 2.60 $1 Superfecta 3-1-7-6 14.80 $1 Superfecta 3-7-1-6 6.50
Left: Independence Hall in the winner's circle. Trainer Michael Trombetta said, "I thought it was good. Jose [Ortiz] said it was a bit tiring. He didn't get away good, and this probably got to the bottom of him because it's been two months. This is a different track than he ran on last time [winning the Grade 3 Nashua on November 3]. I'm just glad to get through it and it's one more step in the direction we want to go. Truthfully, even if he didn't win and he was a little vulnerable, if he did things right and was still well, that's horse racing. As hard as it is to take sometimes, I would have been good with it. Everyone knows what our goals are and we're trying to get there one step at a time. 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. It could be the Sam F. Davis [on February 8], it's on the radar in five weeks. But the intent was after today was to head south."
Right: Independence Hall heads back to the barn. Winning jockey Jose Ortiz said, "He had a lot of energy here in the paddock, but last time he was like that too on the racetrack. Today, as soon as I got to the pony, he was very nice and relaxed. He broke a bit slow today because he wasn't standing the right way. 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."
Left: Independence Hall in the paddock before the race. Trombetta said about his acting up before the race, "We schooled him and he schooled well, but he's obviously different in the afternoon when he comes over. He's smart enough to know it's time to do something. I'm going to have to keep working on that. He's a lot bigger and stronger than us. My guys did a great job and it can be hard to deal with him when they're like that. We schooled him here Monday and he was great. He knows the difference. We'll keep working with it."
Right: Independence Hall being saddled in the paddock. Ortiz added, "I got the opportunity to ride him like he was the best horse and I did. 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. I thought Manny [Franco aboard Celtic Striker] had some speed coming out of sprint races, but it was a six-horse field and I was going to take what they gave me."
Left: Second place finisher (in a dead heat) Prince of Pharoahs returns after the race. The 12-1 shot sat 3 wide 4th early under Kendrick Carmouche, then rallied to get second beaten 4 lengths. The Linda Rice trainee improved his record to 1 win, 1 second, and 0 thirds in 3 starts, earning $58,410 for owner-breeder Darlene Bilinski and Harry Patten.
Right: Second place finisher (in a dead heat) Bourbon Bay in the post parade. The 9-2 second choice was 5th and 5 wide early under Jose Lezcano then rallied to get second beaten 4 lengths. The Mark Hennig trainee improved his record to 1 win and 2 seconds in 3 starts, earning $70,500 for owners Bourton Lane Stable, Seidman Stables, and Lake Lonely Racing.