Just three days in to the new year, the Kentucky Derby prep trail will begin on Saturday at Aqueduct with the 145th running of the Jerome Stakes. Nine horses have been entered in the Grade 3 event which is the second (or third) oldest stakes race in the United States.
The Jerome Stakes is named for Leonard Walter Jerome, one of the more interesting characters in the New York City ecosystem of the 19th century. Along with his compatriot and fellow horseman August Belmont I (who also has a well known New York stakes race named after him), he was a Donald Trump of an earlier era. Jerome made and lost millions in the stock market, real estate–and thoroughbred racing. The old joke goes that the best way to make a small fortune in racing is to ‘start with a large fortune’ but Jerome lived large and became a fixture in the society pages. He was reportedly ‘adored by thousands’ and had ‘fewer enemies than most men in his position’. He was something of a Mark Cuban type, a maverick ‘new money’ entrepreneur who had the best reaction to being shunned by polite society. According to a newspaper account at the time “People like Belmont and Jerome do not enter Society. They create it as it goes along.”
According to some media accounts, the Jerome is the ‘second oldest’ stakes race in North America. The Daily Racing Form suggests otherwise, however, noting that ‘The Phoenix Stakes (first run in 1831), now being contested at Keeneland, and the Travers Stakes (1864) are the only older ones’. The dispute is likely due to the ‘relocation’ of the Phoenix Stakes but regardless, the Jerome was first run in 1846 and has been part of the fabric of American racing–and the Kentucky Derby prep schedule–ever since.
The race may lack a bit in terms of marquee horses this year–only one graded stakes winner is in the field–but it has plenty of symbolic significance as the start of the 2015 racing season and particularly the kickoff of the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown seasons. It’s unlikely that the race will produce an eventual Kentucky Derby winner but it’s a great prelude to the excitement yet to come during the Triple Crown campaign.