Tom Cooley Photography
By Mike Curry, @currymj19, America’s Best Racing
After winning his first two starts by a combined 24 lengths, Verrazano tested the competition in a stakes race for the first time on Saturday in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and passed the exam with flying colors.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Verrazano stumbled slightly at the start but quickly recovered and was positioned to the outside of pacesetter Falling Sky while finding a nice, comfortable rhythm on the backstretch. Moving into the final turn in the 1 1/16-mile race, Verrazano dispatched Falling Sky and opened up a commanding lead. The More Than Ready colt powered into the stretch with his ears pricked and cruised to a 3-length victory.
“He cut himself a bit,” Velazquez said. “I asked him for run right away, so we wouldn’t get left, and when he got to the front I was able to get him to settle. Down the backstretch I had a lot of horse and I just let him do his thing. I asked him for something in the turn, and he had as much as I thought he would. He was running very strong to the finish.”
Grade 1-placed Java’s War uncoiled a determined late bid to finish a fast-closing second, 4 1/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Falling Sky.
Verrazano finished fast after pressing the action through a reasonably strong opening half-mile in :47.69. He completed the 1 1/16-mile trip in 1:43.96 for his third win in as many starts for trainer Todd Pletcher. Sent off as the 2-5 favorite, he earned 50 points for the win in the new Kentucky Derby point system, which should be sufficient to guarantee Verrazano a spot in the first jewel of the Triple Crown on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Pletcher, who won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver, said Verrazano’s next start would be the Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) on March 30, the Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) on April 6 or the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 13.
“The way he has finished his mile and 1 1/16-mile races, I don’t see another sixteenth being much of an issue. To come here and get 50 Kentucky Derby points, everyone can take a deep breath and see what happens next.”
Verrazano is owned by Let’s Go Stable and Coolmore associates Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith.
Let’s Go Stable is a partnership managed by Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan, the son and son-in-law of Jim Scatuorchio, who raced Verrazano’s Grade 1-winning sire More Than Ready.
“He has had some freakishly good performances and some of the things he does in the morning in his training, we don’t see too often,” he said. “Today was a good performance.
“He is a lot like his sire, More Than Ready; he has a great disposition and a great mind. You always worry about the variables – his first time shipping to a new place, the first time around 2 turns, the first time in a stakes. So we had a lot of variables he hadn’t seen before and he seemed to handle them real well.”
Verrazano is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2012 Risen Star Stakes (G2) winner El Padrino, who also is owned by Let’s Go Stable.
For an Equibase chart, click here.
VERRAZANO RETURNS TO THE WINNER'S CIRCLE VICTORIOUS
Tom Cooley Photography