Slow Track Affected Firenze Fire's Final Time in Jerome Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 15th, 2018

It’s not every day that you see stakes-caliber horses record a time as slow as 1:42.88 for a mile, but that’s what happened in the $150,000 Jerome Stakes on Saturday, the first of Aqueduct’s 2018 prep races for the Kentucky Derby.

On paper, the Jerome should not have been run that slow. After all, the odds-on favorite was Firenze Fire, a two-time graded stakes winner that won the prestigious Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont last year against a quality field, clocking a mile in 1:35.91. And while Firenze Fire’s training had been interrupted due to cold weather in New York, he overcame the adversity to rally from last place in the Jerome and win by a half-length over the stubborn pacesetter Seven Trumpets, who entered off of two straight wins at Churchill Downs. Coltandmississippi, a two-time winner shipping from Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher, finished a distant third.
So was a slow racing surface to blame for Firenze Fire’s slow time? I would argue yes, but don’t just take my word for it—check out the other race times that were recorded at Aqueduct on Saturday:
Race # Conditions Distance Time
1 $12,500 Claiming, 4yo+ 10f 2:12.42
2 Maiden Special Weight, 3yo NY-breds 6f 1:17.71
3 $62,500 Allowance Optional Claiming (NW2$ X), 4yo+ 8f 1:40.88
4 $25,000 Maiden Claiming, 4yo+ NY-breds 6f 1:16.69
5 Say Florida Sandy Stakes, 4yo+ NY-breds 7f 1:27.14
6 $25,000 Claiming (NW2L), 4yo+ 8f 1:44.88
7 Allowance (NW1$ X), 4yo+ F&M 6.5f 1:22.50
8 Jerome Stakes, 3yo 8f 1:42.88
9 $40,000 Maiden Claiming, 3yo NY-breds 6.5f 1:22.39
The above-listed times are indicative of an extremely slow track, and the fairly even but gradually slowing quarter-mile splits from the Jerome--:25.01, :25.80, :25.91, and :26.16—similarly suggest that the track was making it impossible to record fast times. Aqueduct has been playing this way throughout the winter meet, though Saturday’s official track conditions—muddy and sealed—seemed to accentuate the tiring nature of the track.

Under the circumstances, I can’t really knock Firenze Fire’s performance, especially considering the training that he missed before the race. The Jason Servis-trained colt now his three stakes wins under his belt, though notably, they’ve all come in one-turn races. As a result, Firenze Fire is starting to garner a reputation as a one-turn specialist that might not excel in longer races around two turns, and perhaps this will prove to be deserved. However, it’s important to note that Firenze Fire’s lone run around two turns came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), when he shipped across the country, had a slight temperature before the race, and failed to fire while finishing seventh. I think it could be premature to write off Firenze Fire as a miler, though with the one-mile Gotham Stakes (gr. III) penciled in for his next start, we likely won’t see him around two turns again until April.

What did you think of Firenze Fire’s performance in the Jerome?