04/12/2013 3:45PM

Aqueduct: Pletcher pleased with Verrazano ahead of Kentucky Derby

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Barbara D. Livingston
Verrazano, the undefeated winner of the Wood Memorial, is scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs on Sunday for the Kentucky Derby.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – In two of the last three years, trainer Todd Pletcher sent a horse from the Wood Memorial to Churchill Downs hoping against hope that the horse would make the Kentucky Derby.

A week before the 2010 Derby, Pletcher had to withdraw Eskendereya from the Derby with a leg injury that ultimately led to his retirement. In 2011, Uncle Mo, third in that year’s Wood, was scratched with what was eventually diagnosed as a liver disorder.

Last year, Pletcher felt good about Wood winner Gemologist when he arrived at Churchill Downs but was left humbled when the previously undefeated colt finished 16th, though a foot bruise was diagnosed a few days later.

“Of all the horses we’ve run in the Derby whose performance I was disappointed with, based on the way they were training, I’d have to put Gemologist right at the top of the list,” Pletcher said.

On Sunday, Verrazano, the undefeated winner of the April 6 Wood Memorial, will ship to Churchill Downs as the possible morning-line favorite for America’s most prestigious horse race.

Thus far, Pletcher said he couldn’t be “any happier” with how Verrazano has come out of the race and has subsequently trained.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

“I think he’s excellent,” Pletcher said Friday at Belmont Park. “He seems to have come out of the race in very good shape. His conditioning has held up really well. He’s a big, sturdy horse who eats well. We haven’t had to manage his training in any way.”

Verrazano was to train at Belmont on Saturday and Sunday before being flown to Louisville, Ky., on Sunday afternoon.

As he stated after the Wood, Pletcher said how Verrazano handles the Churchill Downs surface will determine his chances in the Derby.

“You can never underestimate how important that is,” Pletcher said.

Pletcher said that when he was in Kentucky earlier in the week, he watched several of his horses gallop over the Churchill strip and was pleased with how they got over the surface.

“It seems to be in very good condition,” he said. “The Oaks fillies galloped on it and handled it well so far.”

Pletcher said Revolutionary, the Louisiana Derby winner, vanned to Churchill on Friday from WinStar Farm. Pletcher said Verrazano and Revolutionary each would have two workouts at Churchill, presumably April 21 and April 28, weather and track condition permitting.

Wood Memorial second- and third-place finishers Normandy Invasion and Vyjack are scheduled to leave Sunday for Kentucky as well.

Normandy Invasion will leave on the same flight as Verrazano, while Vyjack will leave by van Sunday night and is scheduled to arrive at Churchill sometime Monday, according to trainer Rudy Rodriguez.

Chad Brown, the trainer of Normandy Invasion, said all reports from his Belmont-based assistant, Cherie DeVaux, regarding Normandy Invasion are positive.

“Normandy looks great,” Brown said. “He came out of the race in good shape. So far, his energy level seems good. He’s traveling smooth.”

Brown said it is his “gut feeling” that Normandy Invasion will benefit from training at Churchill, and he plans two workouts for the colt over the track.

Vyjack, who came out of the Wood with a respiratory issue, has only jogged since the race, though on two mornings, that was due to a wet Aqueduct main track.

Regarding Vyjack’s health, Rodriguez said, “I think we got everything under control.”

Rodriguez, who is scheduled to arrive in Kentucky on Monday night, is slated to appear before Kentucky’s Licensing Review Committee on Tuesday.

◗ Luis Saez, who has moved his tack to New York, won with his first mount here Friday aboard Sokitumi Samurai.