Verrazano's stakes debut in Saturday's $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby had his competition raving after the dominating win by the 3-year-old More Than Ready colt, who is undefeated in three starts.
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“Todd’s (trainer Pletcher) horse is a freak,” said Ken McPeek, trainer of Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Java's War.
Verrazano is More Than Ready's leading earner of 2013, helping propel his sire into the top 15 on this year's General Sire list. Verrazano broke his maiden by 7 3/4-lengths New Year's Day at Gulfstream Park, then came back a month later for an eye-popping 16 1/4-length score over the same surface
Despite stumbling slightly at the break, Verrazano was just a length off the lead after a quarter mile, then put himself in front for good entering the backstretch. Jockey John Velazquez gave the flashy bay a nudge on the second turn, and Verrazano sprinted clear with ease, galloping home a three length winner in 1:43.96 for the 1 1/16-miles. He earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, his second straight triple-digit number.
Verrazano, who is owned by the Let’s Go Stable syndicate headed by Bryan Sullivan and Kevin Scatuorchio and the Coolmore entity of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Susan Magnier, earned 50 points toward qualifying for a spot in the May 4 Kentucky Derby (G1).
“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 (who Pletcher also trained); 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 two 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.
“We were a little unsure of what the pace scenario would be. You had horses with speed coming out of other races and ideally we wanted to stalk someone, but he is so naturally fast for a big horse, there wasn’t enough pace to get behind too many horses,” Pletcher said.
“He stumbled a little bit leaving the gate, but he seemed to recover quickly and put himself in a good spot. Once John got him to the middle of the track and got him to settle, it looked like he was very relaxed throughout. When he made the lead, he kind of pricked his ears like he tends to do and seemed like he was waiting a little on the competition.”
Pletcher said Verrazano’s next start would be the March 30 Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1), the April 6 Wood Memorial (G1) or the April 13 Arkansas Derby (G1).
“The way he has finished his mile and mile-and-a-sixteenth 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.”
“If you’re a fan of horse racing, you’ve got to love this horse,” Scatuorchio said. “He’s amazing.”
“It’s always nerve-wracking when you’re a (2-5) favorite, but he validated everyone’s expectations,” Sullivan said. “We’re excited and we’re looking forward to his next race.”
Bred in Kentucky by Emory Hamilton, Verrazano is a half-brother to Risen Star S. (G2) winner El Padrino, out of Enchanted Rock, whose siblings include Grade 2 winners Waldoboro and Tara Roma.