Independence Hall shows Derby promise in $150K Jerome
by Keith McCalmont
OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables and Robert and Kathleen Verratti's Independence Hall kicked off his journey to the Kentucky Derby by capturing Wednesday's $150,000 Jerome at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Michael Trombetta, the dark bay son of Constitution was rambunctious in the paddock but all business on the track en route to a commanding four-length score in his 3-year-old debut to earn 10 qualifying points towards the "Run for the Roses."
The one-mile Jerome is the second of five races at the Big A that are part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series. The runner-ups share four points for second, third-place garners two points and the fourth-place finisher notches one point.
Up next on the Derby trail at the Big A is the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers, a nine-furlong test slated for February 1.
Independence Hall arrived at the Jerome off a two-month break from his scintillating 12 ¼-length score in the Grade 3 Nashua on November 3 at Aqueduct. He broke last-of-six in the Jerome under returning pilot Jose Ortiz, but was quickly maneuvered outside rivals to stalk from second position as Dubai Bobby set splits of 23.79 seconds and 47.47 on the main track rated good.
Independence Hall cruised four-wide through the turn and opened up a 2 ½-length advantage at the stretch call as Prince of Pharoahs launched his bid up the rail with Bourbon Bay cranking up the pressure from the outside.
Under confident handling from Ortiz, Independence Hall continued to widen through the final sixteenth and was never threatened while stopping the clock in 1:37.27. Prince of Pharoahs and Bourbon Bay dead-heated for second to gain three Derby qualifying points each, while Celtic Striker completed the superfecta to earn a single point. Polar Bear Pete and Dubai Bobby rounded out the order of finish. Inside Risk was scratched.
Ortiz said Independence Hall was professional once he stepped onto the racetrack.
"He had a lot of energy here in the paddock, but last time he was like that too on the racetrack. Today, as soon as I got to the pony, he was very nice and relaxed," said Ortiz. "He broke a bit slow today because he wasn't standing the right way.
"It was a small field and I was able to put him in the clear," he added. "I didn't want to get stuck in behind horses today and try to be a hero. I got the opportunity to ride him like he was the best horse and I did."
Although the margin of victory was less than his stellar Nashua effort, Ortiz said Independence Hall finished off his race in good order.
"From the quarter pole to the wire he did very well. He didn't look like he did last time, but these are a little better horses and I think the track is very tiring today," said Ortiz.
Trombetta said he was pleased with the effort from Independence Hall off the layoff.
"I thought it was good. Jose said it was a bit tiring. He didn't get away good, and this probably got to the bottom of him because it's been two months," said Trombetta. "This is a different track than he ran on last time. I'm just glad to get through it and it's one more step in the direction we want to go.
"Truthfully, even if he didn't win and he was a little vulnerable, if he did things right and was still well, that's horse racing," he added. "As hard as it is to take sometimes, I would have been good with it. Everyone knows what our goals are and we're trying to get there one step at a time."
Trombetta said Independence Hall is likely to make his next start in the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis on February 8 at Tampa Bay Downs.
"I'll talk to the partners but I think the plan will be next week to head down to Tampa and train down there and get out of this weather and get him ready for the next step," said Trombetta. "It could be the Sam F. Davis. It's on the radar in five weeks. But the intent after today was to head south."
Independence Hall, bred in Kentucky by Woodford Thoroughbreds, banked $82,500 in victory and remains undefeated in three starts. He returned $2.20 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing resumes on Saturday at the Big A with a nine-race card highlighted by the $100,000 La Verdad. First post is 12:30 p.m. Eastern.