by Heather Pettinger
Originally scheduled for New Year's Day, the Jerome proved to be worth the wait for Mr. Amore Stable's Firenze Fire, as he got up in the final jumps to run down a front-running Seven Trumpets on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack, getting his sophomore campaign off to a successful, albeit slightly delayed, start with a well-earned victory in the $150,000 Jerome.
Firenze Fire, winner of the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park in October, broke from post 5 under jockey Manny Franco and settled on the outside towards the back of the pack as Seven Trumpets held a comfortable advantage over the field of six, leading through an opening quarter-mile in 25.01 seconds and the half in 50.81. Favored at 2-5, Firenze Fire began to pick up steam as the field rounded the turn and, with a five-wide move into the stretch, steadily gained on his rival to prevail just under the wire to win by a half-length.
Trained by Jason Servis, Firenze Fire completed the one-mile turn over the muddy and sealed main track in 1:42.88. He returned $2.90 for a $2 win wager.
"I was on the best horse today," said Franco, who picked up the mount from the out-of-town Irad Ortiz, Jr. and had teamed up with Servis to win the 2016 Withers with Sunn Ridge. "The instructions were to try to break good and not give him too much to do. That's what I tried to do, but the race was a little tougher than we expected, but we got it done."
The win was the first for the Poseidan's Warrior colt since he posted a half-length score in the one-mile Champagne on October 7 over next-out stakes winners Good Magic and Enticed. He closed his 2-year-old campaign, which also included a win in the Grade 3 Sanford and a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga, with a lackluster effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he finished seventh, 20 lengths behind Good Magic.
Firenze Fire's luck was a bit slower to turn around in 2018 than anticipated, as severe winter weather moved the Jerome, and the Grade 1 winner's awaited return, back nearly two weeks.
"Heading into the race, I thought he might be up against it," said Servis. "It looked like there was a speed bias for most of the day on the track. He didn't have the easiest of trips; he didn't break on top and had to deal with some traffic, but I'm not going to knock the ride. Manny got the job done. It's nice when things work it. They don't usually, but when they do, it's nice."
As an official Kentucky Derby prep, the Jerome awarded the winner 10 qualifying points towards a spot in the starting gate on the First Saturday in May, bringing Firenze Fire's points total to 20, including the 10 he earned in the Champagne.
Seven Trumpets, who shipped from Florida for trainer Dale Romans, picked up four points in his stakes debut, the first loss of his career since finishing fifth in his July debut. Coltandmississippi earned two points and Regalian earned one point for their respective third- and fourth-place finishes.
Factor This and Glennwood completed the order of finish. Smooth B and Old Time Revival were scratched.