01/02/2016 6:03PM

Flexibility stays on Derby path with Jerome triumph

Debra A. Roma
Flexibility wins the Jerome Stakes by 4 1/4 lengths Saturday at Aqueduct.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The first Saturday in January at Aqueduct is a long way from the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, but Flexibility did what he was supposed to do Saturday in the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes to allow his connections at least to continue to dream of the Kentucky Derby in four months.

Getting a sweet, stalking trip behind three speed horses, Flexibility made a four-wide move leaving the half-mile pole, passed the front trio before the quarter pole and cruised to a 4 1/4-length victory in the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct.

Vorticity, part of the early three-ply pace battle, finished second, 2 1/2 lengths clear of the late-running In Equality. It was 9 3/4 lengths back to Bird of Trey, who was followed, in order, by Let Me Go First, Condo King, and Silent Assassin. Donegal Moon stumbled leaving the starting gate, unseating jockey Manny Franco. Neither horse nor rider was injured.

Flexibility, a New York-bred son of 2006 Kentucky Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat, won for the second time in four starts. He was sent off the heavy 1-2 favorite coming off runner-up finishes to the undefeated Mohaymen in the Nashua and Remsen – both Grade 2 races run over Aqueduct’s main track.

“He got a terrific trip, great set up,” trainer Chad Brown said from south Florida, where he watched the race via simulcast. “He deserved to win a race like that. Hopefully there’s more development in him."

Perhaps the most anxious moment for Flexibility was the start, when Donegal Moon, directly to Flexibility’s inside, stumbled badly, unseating Franco. Flexibility, however, avoided the mishap, and his jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr., was able to obtain a perfect position in fourth, with no horses around him, as Vorticity, Bird of Trey, and Condo King lined up three across the track and went a quarter in 23.48 seconds and a half-mile in 47.31. Flexibility was five lengths off the lead.

“I wanted to be close, I wanted to be behind the speed, but when I saw three horses going for the lead, it set it up very good for me,” Ortiz said. “I know they were going a little fast, so let me wait a little longer. I don’t have anybody putting pressure on, so I got more confidence to let him fall back a little more than what I want.”

Leaving the half-mile pole, Ortiz put Flexibility four wide. He advanced toward the leaders approaching the top of the stretch and drew away from his rivals straightening for home. Flexibility was late switching leads and drifted out a few paths under Ortiz’s left-handed whip but still was much the best.

“When I asked him before the half-mile, he just put me on top of the horses,” Ortiz said.

Flexibility, owned by Seth Klarman and Bill Lawrence, covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:42.98 and returned $3.10 to win.

Flexibility earned 10 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby and now has 14 points overall. Whether he proves himself Derby worthy will be determined in the months to come, but so far, he’s proven to be one of the top horses of his generation.

“I don’t know how many newly turned 3-year-olds have run four great races to start off his career like he has,” Brown said. “Not many.”

Brown has a number of 3-year-olds in south Florida such as Gift Box, Shagaf, and Economic Model, so he could opt to have Flexibility try the New York route to the Derby.

Aqueduct’s 3-year-old stakes program consists of the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers on Jan. 30, the Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham on March 5, and the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 9.