10/11/2009 12:00AM

Kensei provides first stiff test for Girolamo


ELMONT, N.Y. - By design, Girolamo has been brought along conservatively by his connections this summer. With two eye-catching allowance wins under his belt, the exciting 3-year-old prospect now gets a real test when he meets the multiple graded stakes winner Kensei in Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park.

The Jerome, a one-turn mile race restricted to 3-year-olds, drew a field of five and will be carded as race 4 on the 10-race program.

After winning a maiden race impressively at Saratoga as a 2-year-old, Girolamo was moved right up into graded stakes company, where he ran fourth in the Grade 2 Futurity and sixth in the Grade 1 Champagne. He came out of the race with some minor physical issues that required some off time.

He was transferred from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum's Darley Stable to his Godolphin operation. He remained in Kentucky through the winter and joined Godolphin's Belmont stable in June. He won a first-level allowance by four lengths at Saratoga on Aug. 9. While he certainly could have been considered for a stakes race off that, the decision was made to run him in another allowance race, which he won by 5 1/2 lengths on Sept. 13.

"We could've taken him down to Pennsylvania or any one of those derbies," said Rick Mettee, the New York-based Godolphin assistant trainer. "We just thought this was the prudent course with him. You got a one-turn mile here where he's going to hook a good horse like Kensei, so this is a good test for him."

Girolamo has continued to train superbly at Belmont and has the versatility to be successful from on or off the pace. Alan Garcia rides from post 3.

Kensei, owned by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stable and trained by Steve Asmussen, emerged as a solid 3-year-old with impressive wins in the Grade 2 Dwyer here in July and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. He stopped abruptly in the Travers, run over a sloppy track, though his jockey Edgar Prado said he still doesn't know the reason.

"Shortening in distance is going to help," said Prado, who will ride Kensei from post 4. "He's got that tactical speed and his kick is going to be better. We saw what he could do in the Dwyer. If he could repeat that effort we should be in good shape."

Completing the field are Burley's Gold, who is 2 for 2 at Belmont; Denver, seventh in the Pennsylvania Derby; and Pitched Perfectly, beaten a combined 71 1/4 lengths in four stakes tries.