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Features - RACING

Verrazano during a morning workout. Photo courtesy Pam DiOrio

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

Todd Pletcher understands better than most trainers how difficult it is to advance to the Kentucky Derby and how hard it is to bring home the roses upon getting there.

He thought he had dead aim at the Derby when Eskendereya staged a rousing performance in the 2010 Wood Memorial Stakes. But a career-ending injury kept the promising 3-year-old from reaching the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

Pletcher sent 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo into the Wood as an overwhelming favorite the next year. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner came home a disappointing third and later was scratched from the “Run for the Roses”. Gemologist took the Wood last year but was no better than 16th on the first Saturday in May to add to a series of disappointments for Pletcher and his high-powered operation.

Super Saver relished a wet track at Churchill Downs in 2010 and gave the accomplished trainer his lone Derby triumph. He had missed with his first 24 starters in a quest that began in 2000. The answer for Pletcher and his quality staff is always the same. Continue to develop talent. Keep knocking at the door until they break it down.

Pletcher will again send a prime Derby contender into the $1 million Wood Memorial when he pits Verrazano against Vyjack in a clash of undefeated 3-year-olds on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack. The key prep race will be telecast by NBC Sports Network from 6-7:30 p.m. ET.

Verrazano Inside

Photo courtesy Pam DiOrio

Verrazano, co-owned by Let’s Go Stable and the Coolmore partnership of Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith, could be something special. After breaking his maiden on New Year’s Day at Gulfstream Park, he burst onto the national scene with a 16 ¼-length romp in an allowance race on Feb. 2. He was the best by 3 lengths in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9.

VERRAZANO COMING HOME IN THE TAMPA BAY DERBY

Verrazano TBDerby Hero

Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire

“He’s been a rare horse who’s been able to go from a maiden on Jan. 1 to the Derby favorite on the first Saturday in April, which you don’t see very often,” Pletcher said. “He’s been able to handle everything that we’ve thrown at him so far and now we have another step to go. We’re optimistic as he continues to develop, he’ll be able to continue to handle his assignments.”

Verrazano, named for the bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn, faces his sternest challenge by far as the 4-5 favorite in a field of 10 for the Wood. Vyjack is a perfect 4-for-4 at Aqueduct. The talent in the 10-horse Wood doesn’t end there. Normandy Invasion has rattled off three consecutive bullet workouts at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla. Elnaawi can improve on a third-place showing in the Gotham Stakes. Mr Palmer is 2-for-2 this year for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

Still, most fans will be focused on Verrazano.

VERRAZANO MAKES HIS RECORD 3 FOR 3 AFTER THE TAMPA DAY DERBY

Verrazano TBDerby Eclipse Hero

Photo courtesy Eclipse Sportswire

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a horse train like him and carry the kind of condition that he does and handle things the way he does,” said Bryan Sullivan of Let’s Go Stable. “So everything I’ve seen from him is something I haven’t seen before. We just need to keep moving forward and, at some point, we’re going to need some luck. But he’s a tremendous animal right now.”

$1 million Wood Memorial Stakes

Aqueduct, Saturday, Race 11, 6:28 PM ET

3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

Odds

1

Chrisandthecapper (KY)

J. Lezcano

J Servis

30-1

2

Normandy Invasion (KY)

J. Castellano

C C Brown

5-1

3

Quinzieme Monarque (KY)

I.Ortiz Jr.

T Albertrani

30-1

4

Elnaawi (KY)

E. Castro

K P McLaughlin

12-1

5

Vyjack (KY)

J. Rosario

R R Rodriguez

4-1

6

Mr Palmer (KY)

J. Alvarado

W I Mott

12-1

7

Always in a Tiz (KY)

C.H. Borel

D A Schettino

15-1

8

Verrazano (KY)

J.R. Velazquez

T A Pletcher

4-5

9

Go Get the Basil (NY)

J.L. Ortiz

R A Violette Jr.

30-1

10

Freedom Child (KY)

E. Trujillo

T Albertrani

30-1

All carry 123 pounds

Equipment Change: #7, Always in a Tiz, Blinkers On


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