Verrazano image courtesy of Tom Cooley Photography/Tampa Bay Downs
By Blood-Horse Staff
Unbeaten Verrazano, the early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), is set to make his next start April 6 in the $1 million Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) at Aqueduct Racetrack, trainer Todd Pletcher said March 22.
Verrazano, who opened as the solid 7-2 morning line choice in the final of three Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools March 22, will likely meet undefeated Vyjack in the Wood.
Currently stabled at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, where he will continue to train in advance of the Wood, Verrazano is scheduled to fly to New York April 3, Pletcher said. Verrazano will have his next work March 24, he added.
Verrazano has been untested in three starts, most recently winning the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) in his stakes debut by three lengths under a hand ride.
"Looking at his schedule, we felt Tampa put him in a position that opened up a lot of options, with the Wood always being our first choice," Pletcher said. "Assuming he trains accordingly, we'll stick with that plan. We'll have four weeks' spacing between the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood and the Kentucky Derby."
Pletcher, who trains the colt for Let's Go Stable, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith, said the sandy Tampa Bay main track should have the son of More Than Ready well prepared for the 1 1/8-mile Wood.
"It's a demanding surface and provides a good foundation," said Pletcher of the Tampa Bay Downs main track. "The fact he was able to go there and win first time over it gives us encouragement that we can ship him just about anywhere and that he'll run well."
Verrazano has made two other starts in his career, winning his debut over maidens by 7 3/4 lengths on New Year's Day and an allowance test by 16 1/4 lengths Feb. 2. Both came at Gulfstream Park.
Vyjack, winner of the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) March 2, continued his preparations for the Wood by breezing five furlongs in 59.07 seconds over Aqueduct's inner track March 22, accompanied by 7-year-old Head Heart Hoof.
After conceding two lengths to Head Heart Hoof at the start, Vyjack drew even with his stablemate at the five-sixteenth pole and was a half-length in front at the wire. He pulled well clear in the gallop out.
Head Heart Hoof, winner of the Toboggan (gr. III) and third in the Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct, was clocked in :59.72.
"Last time was easy (four furlongs in :51.23 March 15)," said Gustavo Rodriguez, who was aboard for Friday's workout. "It was time for him to do something. I wanted him to do something, but not crazy. He was chasing the other one. Turning for home, I asked him a little bit, and he responded nice. He galloped out nice. Beautiful. Strong. He's worked with other horses, and nobody can keep up with him."
All four of Vyjack's victories so far have come at Aqueduct. After contesting the pace and wearing down Siete de Oros to win the Jerome (gr. II) by a head in January, the gelded son of Into Mischief rallied from 10th to win the Gotham by 2 1/4 widening lengths.
Owner David Wilkenfeld of Pick Six Racing noted Vyjack's ongoing mental development.
"He seemed very relaxed today in the work and before the work," said Wilkenfeld. "I was watching him on the track. He kind of sat outside the other horse, and when Gustavo set him down he was very relaxed. Usually after the works he kind of waits on the other horse, but it looks like he kind of kept going."
VYJACK WINNING GOTHAM
Photo by Adam Coglianese/NYRA
While the Wood shapes up as a showdown between Vyjack and Verrazano, Wilkenfeld wasn't conceding the race to either undefeated sophomore.
"Normandy Invasion is also a very nice horse," said Wilkenfeld. "He needs to win a big race just to get into the Derby, so he's going to be fully cranked and ready to go. There are some other tough horses, also. The McLaughlin horse who ran against us in the Gotham (Elnaawi, third by 2 3/4 lengths) is also a nice horse."
Rodriguez said Vyjack likely will breeze again in approximately one week.