The American stakes calendar has just a pair of two-milers…though, in all fairness, this is two more than it had before the Belmont Gold Cup began in 2014. That race at Belmont is the summer turf marathon. Gulfstream instituted its own stayers’ test in the winter of 2015, the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes.
Unitarian won the first edition of this race last year in commanding fashion, and later scored a second-place finish behind Innovation Economy in the Belmont Gold Cup. He has not raced since then. Though he has been a regular presence on the Gulfstream worktab since the end of November, Unitarian did not return to defend his title.
However, one of his stablemates in the Todd Pletcher barn did pass the entry box, and will stand as a tough favourite in the second H. Allen Jerkens Stakes.
Saturday, January 23 – Gulfstream Park
H. Allen Jerkens Stakes, four-year-olds and up, two miles on the turf, post time 4:35pm EST
Selections: Charming Kitten (1), Roccia d’Oro (2), Neutronstar (6)
Charming Kitten is another member of that tiny club of active American stakes winners at two turns. He won the very first Belmont Gold Cup in 2014, tracking a few lengths off for much of the race before edging into the lead down the final stretch run. That day, rider John Velazquez raced; Velazquez returns here. He was off for almost a year after that, but his last-out win in the one and a half mile McKnight (GIII) suggests he is coming back into strong form.
In addition to his class and his proven form at two miles, Charming Kitten’s running style also appeals. The race lacks speed — Morning Calm and Good and Proper have tried pressing the fractions, the closest anyone has shown to speed here, but they have not done well in those attempts. Furthermore, both seem to have serious issues making them difficult to back. Morning Calm looks off form, not quite the same horse he was through the spring last year. Good and Proper closed into an absolute collapse the only time he hit the board in stakes company. But, the underside of his pedigree (a sprinting Not For Love mare) hardly screams stamina, and he was losing ground late in the 1 5/16 mile Dueling Grounds Derby last year. With those questions surrounding the most likely speeds on paper, Charming Kitten should be able to stalk kindly in range, and have more than enough gas and class to take over.
With so many questions surrounding the rest of the field, Charming Kitten looks like a strong albeit uncreative single.
Underneath, the ones who have the most appeal in exotics are the two with the most long-winded breeding in the field: Roccia d’Oro and Neutronstar.
Roccia d’Oro, an Irish-bred who raced three times in Italy before shipping to the US, is still lightly raced. The four-year-old colt has raced just six times in total, mostly at distances between a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. Being by Rock of Gibraltar out of an Ali-Royal mare, he has a right to be long-winded. He won at a mile and a quarter in Italy, and was third beaten just a neck in all going a mile and three eighths in allowance company two starts back. Though he was fifth behind Charming Kitten in the McKnight last out, he was part of a blanket finish for place. Finally, the humans inspire confidence. He gets a rider upgrade to Javier Castellano, firing at 22% so far on the Gulfstream meet. His trainer, Tom Albertrani, has won six of his 19 starts at Gulfstream this meet, with another five in the money. Between his breeding, his room to improve, and his strong people, Roccia d’Oro should get a share here.
Neutronstar is far more speculative, but if his prices in exotics pools reflect his 30/1 morning line, he is worth tossing in underneath. He is another lightly-raced four-year-old colt: a seven-time starter. He is also a maiden, with a dubious 7-0-0-1 line. But, the only time he hit the board was against winners going a mile and seven eighths on the Woodbine poly. That came in a $25,000 starter allowance. He had a tough go down the stretch, and yet still missed the place by just a head. That race was anomalously good compared to the rest of his races. This comes as no surprise given that he is by Galileo out of a Danehill mare — stamina over stamina. Of course, it could be that he likes polytrack far better than grass. However, at such long odds against this field? It will be worth betting the distance makes Neutronstar shine.
Among the rest of the field, St. Albans Boy deserves a mention, as he will likely take a decent amount of money. His class at a mile and a half is solid, compared to most of these. Trainer Kelly Rubley does get home the occasional price in small stakes races, as well as in long turf routes. Still, he has finished off the board at Gulfstream in three starts. Last out was perhaps his best outing to date in Hallandale Beach, as he was fourth in the McKnight, in that same blanket finish for second behind Charming Kitten. It would be no surprise to see him get a share, making him hard to talk anyone off of using defensively. However, as he will be one of the shorter prices in the field, and others in the field have more upside. He has little affirmative appeal.