01/03/2013 4:10PM

Aqueduct: Jerome will help determine whether Long River is Kentucky Derby material

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – As they proved last year with Alpha, owner Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin have no problem using the New York road to the Triple Crown for a promising 3-year-old.

So it comes as little surprise that duo will be represented by the royally bred Long River when New York’s road to the 2013 Triple Crown kicks off with Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct.

The Jerome is the first of four graded stakes on this circuit to be offered for 3-year-olds with designs on the Kentucky Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Though a victory in the Jerome doesn’t help a horse earn his way into the Derby because it does not offer qualifying points – a new system that replaces the previous system of graded stakes earnings – it could help determine whether a horse’s connections can dream of a Run for the Roses.

Long River, a son of A.P. Indy out of the multiple Grade 1-winning mare Round Pond, was bred by Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation and will race in its maroon and white colors. He will face seven rivals, including the impressive maiden winner Mudflats, the undefeated Vyjack, and the multiple turf stakes winner Notacatbutallama in the Jerome, to be run at a mile and 70 yards around two turns.

The Jerome, which for the last two years had been run in late April, was moved to the first Saturday in January and replaces the $100,000 Count Fleet. Last year, Alpha won the Count Fleet and Withers for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing and was beaten a neck in the Wood Memorial before running 12th in the Kentucky Derby.

Long River is coming out of a maiden win over the inner track in his third career start, finding running room along the rail in the stretch and winning by three-quarters of a length under Irad Ortiz Jr.

“The pedigree is there. The talent is there. We thought it does help him if we happen to win a Grade 2,” said McLaughlin, who will fly up from south Florida on Saturday for the race.

Talking specifically about Long River’s maiden win here on Dec. 15, McLaughlin said, “He got a schooling down inside; when you’re 1-5 there’s a target on your back and Irad did a great job. The rail opened up and he got him through there.”

Ortiz will again be aboard Long River from post 3.

Mudflats, with blinkers added, won a seven-furlong maiden race over Aqueduct’s main track by 3 1/4 lengths on Dec 8, his third career start. Subsequently, a majority interest was purchased by Little Red Feather Racing and the gelding will now be trained by Doug O’Neill.

Like Mudflats, Vyjack will be stretching out from seven furlongs to a mile and 70 yards. Vyjack, a son of Into Mischief is 2 for 2, including a 5 3/4-length victory in the Traskwood Stakes in the slop on Dec. 9.

Notacatbutallama made the first six starts of his career on turf, winning two stakes. He made his dirt debut in the Damon Runyon, a race run in the slop in which he made the lead in the stretch, but eventually lost to Smooth Bert.

“He ran a winning race, he got to the front and didn’t know what to do with it and idled a bit,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We’ll hope he can improve a bit. He’ll need to improve, He’s run well enough in open company before to suggest he fits.”

James Jingle has finished behind Notacatbutallama in his last three starts, but did win a maiden race on the dirt at Belmont in September.

Vegas No Show won the Dover Stakes at Delaware and finished second to Violence in the Grade 2 Nashua. While Violence went on to win the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity, Vegas No Show finished ninth in the Grade 2 Remsen. Trainer Kelly Breen is removing the blinkers he put on Vegas No Show for the Remsen.

Amerigo Vespucci and Siete de Oros complete the field.