03/13/2013 1:48PM

Dick Jerardi: Verrazano's ability counts more than his experience

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John Duca/Tom Cooley Photography
Verrazano earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Tampa Bay Derby.

As I watched the one-horse stretch run of the Tampa Bay Derby, I was thinking that Verrazano was the kind of horse that would have been dismissed as a Kentucky Derby contender as recently as six years ago. No horse, without a 2-year-old foundation, would have been taken seriously, no matter how good he looked.

The Derby handicapping game changed for good in 2007 and 2008. Curlin did not make his first start until Feb. 3, 2007. Big Brown started once on the grass as a 2-year-old in September. He did not make his 3-year-old debut until March 5, 2008.

Curlin won his maiden Feb. 3 by 12 3/4 lengths, getting a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. He won the Rebel on March 17 by 5 1/4 lengths, getting a 99 Beyer. He won the April 14 Arkansas Derby by 10 1/2 lengths, getting a 105 Beyer. Traffic trouble cost Curlin any chance in the Derby when a well-beaten third behind Street Sense. With a clear run in the Preakness, he ran down the Derby winner, getting a 111 Beyer. He got a 107 Beyer when second in the Belmont Stakes and clinched Horse of the Year in the fall when he got a 119 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Perhaps, Curlin was a one-off. Perhaps, not.

As a 3-year-old, Big Brown won a first-level allowance by 12 3/4 lengths on March 5, getting a 106 Beyer. He came back on March 29 to overpower the Florida Derby field by five lengths, getting another 106. Going around the field from post 20, he crushed the Derby by 4 3/4 lengths, getting a 109 Beyer.

In comparison to Big Brown, Verrazano is going to be supremely tested by the time he gets to Kentucky in April.

Post Curlin and Big Brown, we simply had to look at the Derby differently. Experience did not matter nearly as much talent.

Is there much question that Verrazano is the most talented colt in this group? He won his maiden Jan. 1 by 7 3/4 lengths, getting a 93 Beyer. He won that Feb. 2 allowance by 16 1/4 lengths, getting a 105 Beyer. And he won the Tampa Bay Derby by an easy three lengths, getting a 101 Beyer.

Let’s review. Three races, three wins, by an average of nine lengths with an average Beyer of nearly 100. The colt has never been in front from the start, but has always been right with the pace. You combine tactical speed with acceleration, you have possibilities.

That speed, used correctly, can make the Derby’s 20-horse field into a four-horse field, with the other 16 spread out behind.

Do I care that Verrazano is by More Than Ready? No more than I cared that Union Rags was by Dixie Union when I picked him to win the 2012 Belmont Stakes.

Breeding seems to matter about as much as experience anymore. It is simply about finding the horse with the most ability.

To this point, that is obviously Verrazano. The key words are “to this point.”

There are few Derby paths without detours. So far, everything has gone perfectly for Verrazano in his preparation. Perhaps, that never changes; he goes on to win the Wood Memorial easily with another triple-digit Beyer and arrives in Kentucky as the overwhelming favorite.

I am making no predictions, just saying what we know to this point. I am not saying Verrazano is Big Brown or Curlin. I am saying that those two horses proved that the old ways of looking at the game are just that – old.

Now, I can hear everybody saying Todd Pletcher is 1-for-life in the Derby. I certainly think that matters more than the experience angle, because it is possible that Pletcher’s methods, so effective in just about every other kind of race, simply don’t work for the Derby. More likely, he simply has not brought enough of the right horses to Churchill Downs.

They don’t call this trainer racing or jockey racing. It is horse racing.

Trainers can mess it up. So can jockeys.

Neither can do anything without the right horse.

It is now seven weeks to the Derby. Nothing has been decided, but the picture is, at least, coming into focus. And, today, Verrazano is right in the middle of that picture.

Wesley Wright More than 1 year ago
I really like this Verrazano colt. I watched replays of his three races to date and really like his looks, his high crusing speed and his turn of foot. I will not attempt to compare him with any other horse at this moment. After he runs his next Derby prep race I will begin to make some comparisons. For those who doubt his Derby chances just say the following: Veraazano is More Than Ready. Say it a couple times and you will get my drift.
Sam More than 1 year ago
I think that more and more runners today are getting their talent genes from their grandpappies and grandmammies, or great-grandmammies than their parents.
Francisco Diaz More than 1 year ago
Don't bash the horse , he's not the one going around the racetracks saying he'll romp in the derby. The funny thing is before the Tampa Bay Derby a lot of people thought a lot of Dynamic Sky , he was supposedly the one who would defeat Verrazano, now he's name appears nowhere. Verrazano toys with the field, now they were all garbage , OMG. The irony , in my opinion, is that no matter what he ends of doing in the KD , if he even runs, everybody is going to be watching where Verrazano is , instead of the horse they actually picked to win . Very funny stuff !! Let's just all enjoy the ride !!
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
I'm so sick and tired of the DRF handicappers. They will tout a horse up and down all day long. Wait until the week of the Derby everyone of these knuckleheads will be playing against Verrazano becouse they aren't getting the "right price". Hey DRF! How about telling me the the most likely winner and not the horse you picking because he's "the right price". It really is annoying.
Sam More than 1 year ago
Amen, bro, amen!!
Richard Tejada More than 1 year ago
Your comparisons to Big Brown and Curlin should be qualified by the fact that Big Brown for sure was being given steroids. I believe Curlin also but will have to check that. Dutrow who is obviously a funny guy accordingly to NY State has used drugs on horses and the use of steroids should have been banned long before as a result of how it improved performance in human beings. The use of that drug made it not a level playing field for handicappers as the use of the drug was not on any racing form I saw! I havent see too many Big Brown offspring winning grade 1's recently have you. It is amazing to me how people compare these horses on a equal footing and then ignore the use of performance enhancing drugs. Now Vyjack's trainer is up for suspension for using a banned substance. Wonder if after 3 average performances he comes down the stretch in amazing fashion. Makes you wonder!!!
rsac56 More than 1 year ago
I've always felt with the right mare, More Than Ready could produce a "Classic" contender, so yes, I''m on the Verrazano bandwagon. However, I am not annointing him the Derby winner. Too many things can go wrong, and he hasn't proven enough. What bothers me is that no one was bashing the TB Derby field until "V" made them look ordinary. Then it wasn't because he's that good, but because they had to be that bad. People analyze a race's outcome to suit their bias going in.
Francisco Diaz More than 1 year ago
SPOT ON !
Nathan More than 1 year ago
let's wait till someone looks him in the eye. it won't happen in the wood but in the derby he will be fried long before they turn for home. it's the wrong running style and the pletcher curse. too many eyes watching the barn at churchill. vets can;t do their race day magic.
Perl More than 1 year ago
His last prep is huge. The horse appeared a tad headstrong in the TB Derby. There's still a seasoning question here. I suspect they will try to take him off the pace in his final prep and it will be interesting to see how he responds to such strong handling.
edb More than 1 year ago
Verrazano should be the favorite as of now, but we haven't seen a really strong field yet. Everyone has dismissed Shanghai Bobby, but he will make the "bridge" breathe heavy on derby day and could fry him. It is shaping up to a" catch you at the wire" type of derby for my view and I'm looking for a horse that can move around tiring horses in the stretch. Should have an honest pace and no horse will dictate the race. Hopefully the Pletcher curse won't knock Verrazano out before the derby.
Greg Hopper More than 1 year ago
"Ability, not experience" also mattered more for Flashback until lack of experience mattered last weekend (not to knock the horse, he may yet be the best 3yo in California). In any case, I won't be surprised if Verrazano is making stud plans not Derby plans by the first Saturday...