by TERESA GENARO
They say that good things come to those who wait, and after waiting two weeks to run his 3-year-old colt Firenze Fire in the twice-delayed Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, the good thing for owner Ron Lombardi came in the form of 10 more Kentucky Derby (G1) points for the horse he hopes to run at Churchill Downs in May.
Originally scheduled for January 1, the Jerome was postponed when that card was cancelled because of frigid temperatures. Racing at Aqueduct last weekend was cancelled again following a blizzard that hit the New York area.
Racing was also cancelled at Aqueduct the two days prior to the Jerome, Thursday because of the track conditions and Friday because of fog, but on a comparatively comfortable, sunny day, the Jerome finally went off, and favored Firenze Fire got his first win of 2018 over a track labeled muddy (sealed).
Second choice Seven Trumpets set an unhurried pace, with early fractions of :25.01 and :50.81, while 2-5 favorite Firenze Fire and Manny Franco raced wide at the back of the six-horse field. As Seven Trumpets led into the stretch, Franco and Firenze Fire circled the field, racing first in the center of the track, then ducking in to challenge the pacesetter.
Making his first start at a mile, Seven Trumpets gamely hung on, but Firenze Fire, winner of the Champagne (G1) at the Jerome’s distance, prevailed at the wire by a half-length.
“It was great to see him dig in and come on,” said Lombardi, who races in the name of Mr. Amore Stable. “That was awesome.”
Added to the 10 points earned in the Champagne, the Jerome’s points give Firenze Fire 20, good for second on the Derby leaderboard in this early stage of Derby prep. Seven Trumpets earned 4 points for finishing second, while Coltandmississippi (2 points for third) and Regalian (1 point for fourth) also got on the board.
While running two weeks later than expected is never ideal, both Lombardi and, apparently, Firenze Fire, took the delay in stride.
“The delay was terrible,” said the owner, “but everyone was on the same terms, and [trainer] Jason [Servis] and [assistant] Henry [Arguta] did a great job keeping him active and moving as well as they could. He breezed well this week.”
While Lombardi bred Firenze Fire, who is out of the Langfuhr mare My Every Wish, in Florida, he decided last fall that his first Grade 1 winner would winter in New York. He preferred the number of races available here, and also saw an easier path to Louisville. He never considered sending the son of Poseidon’s Warrior south, not even as New York weathered single-digit temperatures in early January.
Last week, the New York Racing Association announced that the purse of the $750,000 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct in April would be bumped up $250,000 if any Grade/Group 1 winners start. That bonus had little, said Lombardi, with his decision to stay in New York this winter.
“It’s about the points, and getting a little bit closer to the first Saturday in May,” he said. “That’s the dream.”
He beamed as he talked about how it felt, after nine years in the business, to hit these racing milestones with a horse that he bred, “especially,” he added, “since everyone said, ‘Why are you breeding?’
“Not that I know anything, but I said, ‘Let me take a shot.’ And look what we got.”
The next points race at Aqueduct, the Withers (G3) on February 3, was never a definite for Firenze Fire, and it’s now a definite pass, given the schedule. He will likely next run in the Grade 3 Gotham on March 10, followed by the Wood Memorial.
Sent off at double-digit odds in three of his first five races, he ran as the favorite for the first time on Saturday.
“Except for today, the horse never gets respect,” said a good-natured Lombardi. “I compare him to the ’69 Jets, and hopefully we have the same finish that they did.”