01/03/2016 11:54AM

Road to the Derby analysis: Jerome Stakes

Debra A. Roma
Flexibility wins the Jerome Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct.

Grade 3, $200,000 Jerome, 1 mile 70 yards, Aqueduct, Jan. 2, 2016
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Flexibility (sire: Bluegrass Cat)
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Owner: Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence
Beyer Speed Figure: 90

FLEXIBILITY had proven himself one of the better prospects heading into the winter by virtue of consecutive runner-up finishes behind the well-regarded Mohaymen in the Nashua and Remsen stakes at Aqueduct. There was no one of Mohaymen’s quality in this race, leaving Flexibility the 1-2 favorite against seven rivals. He won easily, but not much was learned from this race as he was supposed to beat this bunch, and he’ll never get a better trip than he got this day.

Flexibility broke well and was not hindered in any way when DONEGAL MOON, just to his inside, stumbled badly and lost the rider. In the opening yards, Ortiz saw a three-way speed duel developing in front of him and wrestled back Flexibility into the perfect spot in the clear in fourth, with three rivals slugging it out in front of him.

Flexibility advanced four paths wide on the far turn to go after the weakened leaders, took the lead near the quarter pole, drew away in upper stretch, drifted to the rail while racing on his wrong lead, finally swapped over to his right lead just outside the sixteenth pole, and maintained a comfortable margin while drifting out in the closing yards.

VORTICITY, who finished second, ran a good race in defeat. He raced inside of a three-way duel for the lead through a solid opening half in 47.31 seconds, put away  pace rivals BIRD OF TREY and CONDO KING nearing the quarter pole, but was immediately tackled by Flexibility. He could not stay with the winner but safely held second. The fact Bird of Trey finished 12 1/4 lengths behind him and Condo King 19 lengths behind underscores how well he ran, considering the race flow.

IN EQUALITY, who was third, raced in fifth during the early going, in the clear, just behind Flexibility. After losing ground down the backstretch, he made a decent rally on the far turn to get within hailing distance of Flexibility but did not sustain his punch through the lane and could not reel in Vorticity, though he was well clear of the rest of the field.

Bird of Trey, in his first try around two turns after five sprints, faded to fourth after dueling between horses around the first turn, down the backstretch, and into the far turn.

LET ME GO FIRST, who finished fifth, was extremely reluctant to load before the race, was in front of just one horse (not including the riderless Donegal Moon) into the first turn, and only passed tired horses thereafter but couldn’t even catch a softened-up Bird of Trey through the lane.

Condo King, who finished sixth, was asked aggressively leaving the gate, wound up pressing the pace while three wide until just prior to the quarter pole, then quickly backed up while racing on his wrong lead through the stretch.

SILENT ASSASSIN finished last of the seven runners. He had no speed and was badly outrun beginning with three furlongs to go.

Donegal Moon took a wicked stumble leaving the gate, tossing jockey Manny Franco.