Top Three Finishers In Jerome Expected To Run Back In Feb. 5 Withers

Regally-bred Courvoisier rang in the New Year with authority, passing his first stakes test in Saturday’s $150,000 Jerome at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, N.Y., earning a 73 Beyer Speed Figure with a 1 ¼-length victory in the one-turn mile for sophomores.

Courvoisier, a son of multiple champion-producing stallion Tapit and out of 2014 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Take Charge Brandi, showed similar tactics from his maiden coup at Aqueduct one month prior.

Courvoisier pressured pacesetter Hagler from the outside down the backstretch over the sloppy and sealed main track, remaining in battle with his foe in upper stretch, ultimately coming out on top while fending off a late rally from Smarten Up. In capturing the Jerome, Courvoisier earned 10 qualifying points toward the 2022 Kentucky Derby.

Finishing in the money in his first three starts at the maiden level at Monmouth and Delaware Park, Courvoisier graduated at fourth asking going nine furlongs before turning back in distance for the one-turn mile Jerome.

Trainer Kelly Breen said Sunday morning that Courvoisier will most likely return to nine furlongs in the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers on February 5 at the Big A, which also offers 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers.

“That’s the plan,” Breen said. “Right now, he seems to like the track and the Withers is there, so we’re staying home with him for now.”

John Sikura of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms, who owns Courvoisier in partnership with James D. Spry, expressed delight in seeing the newly turned 3-year-old chestnut win his stakes debut.

“It was very satisfying to see him win,” Sikura said. “It was rather frustrating in his initial starts. We went from having high hopes to moderate expectations, but he ran very determined yesterday. Now the question is will he continue to improve, and we hope that he will.

“We want to be realistic and not get too over the top too early. Every race is a new test,” Sikura added. “The water gets deeper and some 3-year-olds get better with each start. Everyone finds their level. We’ll just let the horse do the talking and hope that he does so loudly.”

Sikura praised Breen for managing the horse effectively.

“Kelly has done such a great job with this horse,” Sikura said. “The best trainers are intuitive people that don’t feel pressure from an owner or other things. So, I’ll let Kelly map out the schedule, but the Withers would be the next logical step.”

Courvoisier hails from the prestigious Take Charge Lady broodmare line, a family which also includes 2013 Champion 3-Year-Old Will Take Charge, as well as Grade 1-winners Take Charge Indy and Omaha Beach. A multiple Grade 1-winning multimillionaire in her own right, Take Charge Lady also produced As Time Goes By, who captured her fourth graded stakes win in the Grade 3 La Canada at Santa Anita on Saturday.

Smarten Up’s Bad Start Changed Jerome Tactics
Trainer Alfredo Velazquez said Happy Tenth Stable’s Smarten Up, a rallying second behind Courvoisier, will also return to Aqueduct from his Parx Racing base.

With regular pilot Anthony Salgado up, Smarten Up was bumped leaving the gate – hampering an expected prominent trip – and forced to track behind horses near the back of the pack over the sloppy and sealed main track, before rallying six-wide down the lane to complete the exacta,  1 1/4 lengths behind Courvoisier.

“We were supposed to be two-to-three lengths off the pace, but when he got bumped leaving the gate, he got cut on his left front and that backed him up,” Velazquez said. “He had never had mud in the face before and that intimidated him for a little while. The jockey had to get after him a little bit because when the mud hit the face, he didn’t want any part of that. But as soon as he took him outside, he started to run. He’s a nice horse.”

Smarten Up, who boasts a perfect in-the-money record of 4-1-2-1, made his first three starts at Parx, finishing second on debut sprinting seven furlongs in September. He followed with a pair of two-turn starts, pressing the pace in a one-mile event in October when third in a race won by Eloquist, who exited that effort to run fifth in the Grade 2 Remsen in December at the Big A.

Smarten Up entered the one-turn mile Jerome from a romping nine-length score traveling one mile and 70 yards on November 22.

Velazquez said he is looking forward to stretching Smarten Up back around two turns at the Big A in the Grade 3 Withers.

“The longer he goes the better it is for him. I can’t wait to run him two turns. If everything goes good, I’ll be there,” Velazquez said.

Velazquez said Salgado is also likely to return for the Withers aboard Smarten Up, who earned 4 Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the Jerome.

“He rides the horse good. It’s better to take the guy that knows the horse,” Velazquez said.

Velazquez conditioned the Canadian-bred Private Zone to Grade 1 wins on the NYRA circuit in 2014, capturing the Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont and the Cigar Mile Handicap at the Big A.

“We were lucky to win the Cigar Mile and Cigar was my favorite horse,” Velazquez said.

The veteran conditioner said he is hopeful of another graded stakes win at the Big A when Smarten Up returns in February.

“He’s going to be tough in that race. If everything goes well, they’re going to have to run to beat him,” Velazquez said.

By American Freedom and out of the stakes-winning Smarty Jones mare Sarah Cataldo, Smarten Up is a half-sibling to multiple sprint stakes winner Tiger Blood. Smarten Up, who matched a career-best 71 Beyer in the Jerome, was purchased for $50,000 from the OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training.

Cooke Creek Looking For Fast Track After Third In Slop In Jerome
Cheyenne Stable’s Cooke Creek will hope for a fast track when he makes his next start in the Grade 3 $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct on February 5. Trained by Jeremiah O’Dwyer, the 3-year-old son of Uncle Mo finished third as the post-time favorite in Saturday’s Jerome going a one-turn mile over the sloppy and sealed Big A main track.

Cooke Creek wrapped up his juvenile campaign with a runner-up effort to Rockefeller in the Grade 3 Nashua at Belmont Park on November 7, ridden from off the pace by Manny Franco to be beaten 2 ¾ lengths.

In Saturday’s Jerome, Franco was forced to keep Cooke Creek closer to the pace than the dark bay colt typically prefers.

“We had to take him out of his comfort zone after watching the earlier races,” O’Dwyer said. “It was very hard for horses to close over that track and the surface became faster and harder throughout the day. We decided that we had to put him closer to the lead to have a chance to win.”

Despite less-than-favorable track conditions and needing to adjust his running style, Cooke Creek was beaten just two lengths in the Jerome.

“He’s got a ton of class and he wasn’t tired afterwards,” said O’Dwyer. “He’s a very honest horse. He did not disappoint us – he ran really well. I just think he’d be better on a fairer track and also going two turns.”

Cooke Creek, who won the Rocky Run around two turns in October at Delaware Park, will again have the chance to run two turns in the nine-furlong Withers, a race O’Dwyer hopes will offer more favorable conditions.

“The extra furlong in the Withers will help him,” O’Dwyer said. “The pace of the race and the dynamic will be different compared to a one turn mile. They go a little steadier and he’ll get a chance to settle in. We can just let him break and get a little time to find his rhythm. Hopefully, it’s just a regular fast track and we see him in a better light.”

O’Dwyer said Cooke Creek, who picked up 2 Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the Jerome, will make his preparations for the Withers at his home base of Laurel Park.

“He might have one or two breezes at the most,” said O’Dwyer. “He just needs maintenance and a light couple of weeks to freshen up and enjoy himself. He’s happy and he knows his job. He’s a forward training horse and we have to be careful he doesn’t overdo it. He’ll do what you want and is a very good horse.”

The post Top Three Finishers In Jerome Expected To Run Back In Feb. 5 Withers appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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