When Firenze Fire took the lead inside the 1/16 pole and got up to win the delayed running of the $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 13, he took another step toward a spot in the starting gate in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
The race was originally carded for New Year's Day but was postponed due to extremely cold conditions.
Racing in the colors of Ron Lombardi's Mr. Amore Stables at Mountain Lakes, N.J., the home-bred colt by Poseidon's Warrior from the Landfuhr mare My Every Wish earned 10 Derby points to raise his total to 20.
His first 10 points came with a half length win in Belmont's Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in early October. The bay colt broke into the ranks of graded stakes winners when he scored in the Grade 3 Sanford on Saratoga's opening weekend.
Jason Servis, who trains Firenze Fire for Mr. Amore Stables, eschewed a trip to Florida for his colt and opted to endure winter on the shores of Jamaica Bay.
However, with his regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. wintering in Florida, Servis reached out to Manny Franco to ride Firenze Fire in the Jerome, a race that many observers believe should be at least a Grade 3.
Franco eased Firenze Fire back into fifth place in the Jerome's field of six in the race around one turn on the Aqueduct main track.
They started their challenge rounding the far turn and entered the home stretch within a length and a half of the pace setting Seven Trumpets and jockey Paco Lopez. Racing on the outside of his rival, Firenze Fire won by half of a length.
Seven Trumpets, who shipped up from Florida for the Jerome, earned four Derby points. Coltandmississippy and Trevor McCarthy were third earning two points.
Firenze Fire was clocked in a less then eye catching 1:42.88 over a sealed muddy track to record his fourth win from six starts. The winner's check for $90,000 raised his earnings over the half million dollar mark.
After the race, Servis saluted his substitute rider saying, “He didn't have the easiest of trips. He didn't break on top and he had to deal with some traffic. But, I'm not going to knock the ride. Manny got the job done,” the trainer concluded.
If Servis keeps his charge on the New York Road to the Derby, he could cost the New York Racing Association an extra quarter of a million dollars.
On the morning of the Jerome, the NYRA management made move to get Aqueduct's signature race, the $750,000, Grade 2 Wood Memorial, put back up to the Grade 1 status it lost two years ago when the Graded Stakes Committee dropped it a peg on the grading scale.
The NYRA announced they will offer a bonus of $250,000 if at least one horse that starts in the Wood on April 7 is a Grade 1 winner. Servis has indicated his next start on the New York Road to the Derby will be the March 10 running of the Gotham (a 50 Derby point race).
If Servis drops a Firenze Fire entry in to the box the week before the Wood, racing fans can look for a Million Dollar Wood Memorial on April 7.
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