Undefeated Todd Pletcher trainee Verrazano passed the gut-check test as he outran Normandy Invasion and Vyjack to win the $1 million G1 Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct.
The start was even for all with the exception of Freedom Child whose starter was still holding him as the gates opened. Freedom Child was declared a non-starter for wagering purposes, having been deemed not given a chance for a fair start.
Verrazano—the 4-5 favorite—broke alertly from post eight but his jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, conceded the early lead to 78-1 longshot Chrisandthecapper on the rail.
As they reached the first turn, Chrisandthecapper led the field followed by Verrazano in the clear to his outside. Elnawi (9-1) and Vyjack (3-1) followed Verrazano just a length behind him. Third betting choice Normandy Invasion (7-2) had a great start Saturday, and he settled in sixth early.
Positions remained unchanged as they ran through the backstretch. The early fractionals were very slow; they ran to the beat of 24.89 and 49.62 the first half-mile.
As they reached the far turn, Velazquez sensed the field getting compact behind him and made a move to take the lead with Verrazano. He made the lead with ease, but then appeared to have stopped to wait for the field.
Chrisandthecapper refused to go away on the rail and challenged Verrazano on the rail. Vyjack was getting positioned by jockey Joel Rosario just to the outside of Verrazano.
Elnaawi and Freedom Child behind them were asked for their run. Normandy Invasion started to make his move from sixth with jockey Javier Castellano.
As they turn for home, Verrazano was asked to do something he had not done before, hold off a challenge in the stretch.
Vyjack was a threatening second just a length behind to his outside, and Normandy Invasion was rallying in the clear a couple of lengths behind in third. Velazquez went to work over Verrazano, using the whip to his right, and Verrazano responded.
In the final 16th, Verrazano slightly edged away from Vyjack and held on to win over a hard-charging Normandy Invasion that finished second at the wire. The final time at the wire was a slow 1:50.27 for the big favorite.
It was a tremendous race with lots of action from the big three horses in the race.
Verrazano was tested like never before and passed the gut-check test. He had to repel the challenge from the previously undefeated Vyjack and hold on to win. If anything, the race experience, going forward, is invaluable.
The Wood Memorial offered 170 points to the first four finishers in the race. With Verrazano and Vyjack having enough points to run in the Derby, it was imperative that Normandy Invasion finished first or second to make it.
Jockey Javier Castellano did everything in his power to get Normandy Invasion the points needed. He almost went all out in his urging in the final strides as Normandy Invasion got the very important second place finish.
With it, Normandy Invasion earned 40 points—a 20-point swing—placing him at the gate of the Kentucky Derby on May 4.
Vyjack was a game third, but was just outrun by Verrazano today. He already had the points for the Derby and now the drill will be to get him ready for Churchill Downs.
For Verrazano, you can make the case that the time was very slow and the win lacked the 'wow' factor. But he can only get better from this win with the experience he just had.
This is a horse that ran his first race on Jan. 1 and has come a long way since. He has won on two different tracks, that present very different challenges, on just his third and fourth career starts.
Verrazano is now a perfect four-of-four lifetime, and his earnings are $861,300.
He is owned by Let's Go Stable—a partnership comprised of Kevin Scatuorchio and his brother-in-law Bryan Sullivan—and Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith of Coolmore. His trainer, Pletcher, won his third Wood Memorial.
Now, Velazquez and Castellano—the nation's top two money earners—will have difficult decisions to make in the upcoming days.
Velazquez is the jockey of G1 Florida Derby winner Orb and Verrazano. Castellano is the jockey of G1 Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary and Normandy Invasion.
Like Ray Paulick tweets, that is the big question.
Most would say that is a sweet dilemma to solve. It certainly won't be an easy one and will take some sleepless nights at least.
One of the key and most important factors to monitor now is to see how all the contenders come out of the race and start training for the Derby. It will be a very contested Run for the Roses.
|Wood Memorial Stakes - Grade 1|
|Purse: $1 Million|
|Distance: One And One Eighth Miles On The Dirt|
|Track Condition: Fast|
|Winning Time: 1:50.27 Fractionals: 24.89, 49.62, 1:13.74, 1:37.72|
|8||Verrazano||John R. Velazquez||3.60||2.70||2.20|
|2||Normandy Invasion||Javier Castellano||3.60||2.60|
|Also ran: 6—Mr Palmer , 4—Elnaawi , 1—Chrisandthecapper , 3—Quinzieme Monarque , 9—Go Get the Basil , 7—Always in a Tiz , 10—Freedom Child|
|Winning Owner: Let's Go Stable, Michael B. Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith|
|Winning Trainer: Todd A. Pletcher|
|WINNING Breeder: Emory A. Hamilton|
|Wager Type||Winning Numbers||Payoff|
|$2 Pick 3||5-6-8 (3 correct)||1,064.00|
|$2 Pick 4||2-5-6-8/10 (4 correct)||2,599.00|
|$2 Daily Double||6-8||81.00|
|$2 Consolation Pick 3||5-6-10 (3 correct)||397.00|
|$2 Consolation Double||6-10||32.00|