04/20/2011 4:16PM

Aqueduct: Rattlesnake Bridge avoids Uncle Mo, but still faces stiff competition in Jerome


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Though he shipped Rattlesnake Bridge from south Florida to New York just prior to the April 9 Wood Memorial, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin always had Saturday’s Grade 2 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct as his primary objective.

The logic behind choosing the Jerome over the Wood was that it would come up a relatively easier spot, especially with Uncle Mo, last year’s 2-year-old champion, running in the Wood. But Saturday’s Jerome, with graded stakes winner Astrology leading the field of eight, came up a pretty salty race even without any Grade 1 winners.

“It is coming up tough but we feel like it’s the right distance for us and the timing was right,’’ McLaughlin said.

Rattlesnake Bridge will be making just his third career start and first in a graded stakes in the Jerome, run at one mile over Aqueduct’s main track on closing day of the spring meet. He debuted at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 12, and despite dropping back on the far turn and racing somewhat erratically in the stretch, Rattlesnake Bridge rallied from fifth to win a six-furlong maiden race. He made his next start against Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream on March 12 and though he came up to the champion’s neck at the quarter pole, he was outkicked in the stretch, finishing 3 3/4 lengths behind Uncle Mo.

“As green as he was first time he learned his lesson from first race to second,’’ McLaughlin said from south Florida, where he is preparing Soldat for a start in the May 7 Kentucky Derby. McLaughlin said his instructions to jockey Jose Lezcano were “Don’t go even if he broke sharply, which he did. We were wanting him to finish up and he was finishing and running at the end. It’s just that Uncle Mo was finishing very strong.’’

McLaughlin said he is taking things race by race with Rattlesnake Bridge, a son of Tapit who he believes will stretch out around two turns at some point. While the connections of a horse like Astrology hopes to use the Jerome as a prep for the Preakness on May 21, McLaughlin said he is taking things “race by race’’ and hasn’t considered anything beyond Saturday.

Lezcano will ride Rattlesnake Bridge from post 5 in the eight-horse field.

The draw for the Jerome, from the rail out, is: Astrology (Mike Smith), Cal Nation (John Velazquez), Gallant Dreams (Cornelio Velasquez), Isn’t He Perfect (Channing Hill), Rattlesnake Bridge (Lezcano), Starship Caesar (Jose Valdivia Jr.), Justin Phillip (Ramon Dominguez), and Adios Charlie (Rajiv Maragh).