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DRF Breeding Weekend Wrap: Verrazano remains unbeaten, Goldencents shows another gear
By Patrick Reed
Two more Grade 1 3-year-old prep races were showcased on Saturday, April 6 as contenders continued to rise and fall one month away from the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Undefeated colts Verrazano and Vyjack squared off in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct along with highly regarded Normandy Invasion, while San Felipe combatants Flashback and Goldencents resumed their West Coast rivalry in the Santa Anita Derby. When the dust settled, Verrazano likely cemented his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite with a gritty win in the Wood, while Goldencents revealed a higher level of ability than previously witnessed in taking the Santa Anita Derby.
Goldencents earned a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure in the Santa Anita Derby and went a long way toward assuaging any doubts about his ability to handle a route of ground. Under Kevin Krigger, Goldencents stalked Southwest Stakes winner Super Ninety Nine through the backstretch and was moving comfortably as he angled out to take the lead around the far turn. Goldencents was challenged by favored Flashback entering the stretch, but the colt impressively found another gear and pulled away to a 1 1/4-length win, covering 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.76.
Goldencents earned 100 points on Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with his win, giving him third place in the standings. Assuming all goes well in his training, the colt will give trainer Doug O’Neill a solid chance to win his second consecutive Kentucky Derby and will also represent co-owner and University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino in his adopted hometown on the first Saturday in May. Goldencents sold for only $5,500 as a yearling at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall sale. Schooled by Webb Carroll, he was later purchased by Doug O’Neill’s brother Dennis for $62,000 as a juvenile, and now has earned an even $1,250,000.
Grade 2 winner Flashback settled for second, and on late Sunday word broke that the Bob Baffert-trained colt would miss the Derby with a non-career threatening bone chip in his right knee. Baffert could still be well-represented at Churchill Downs, however, as Santa Anita Derby third-place finisher Super Ninety Nine and Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie currently reside within the top 20 spots in the points rankings and Den’s Legacy, Code West, and War Academy all have a chance at qualifying in their final prep races.
Goldencents, as well as Wood Memorial third-place finisher Vyjack, are both by Spendthrift Farm stallion Into Mischief, who emerged in late 2012 as a top freshman sire and has carried that momentum through a fantastic first quarter of 2013. The 8-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday will be profiled on Thursday as DRF Breeding's Hot Sire of the week.
In New York, Verrazano staved off a bid from Vyjack through the stretch and held sway late to post a three-quarter-length win over late-closing Normandy Invasion in the Wood Memorial. The More Than Ready colt, campaigned by Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan’s Let’s Go Stable along with the Coolmore partnership of Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, will head to the Kentucky Derby as the likely favorite, although his win was not nearly as dominant as his previous three starts.
Still, Verrazano showed determination in the Wood, where he stalked pacesetter Chrisandthecapper through the backstretch before taking the lead entering the stretch. Ridden by John Velazquez, Verrazano was engaged by Vyjack at the three-sixteenths pole but put that foe away in the final yards, and Normandy Invasion’s rally came too late. Verrazano covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.27 and earned a 97 Beyer.
He, along with Vyjack - who developed mucous in his lungs and will be treated with antibiotics - and Normandy Invasion, are all pointed to Louisville and are safe on a points basis for spots in the starting gate. In fact, Verrazano is tied with Florida Derby winner Orb for the lead at 150. The pair were both ridden by Velazquez in their prep races, and the elite jockey will have a tough choice to make about his Kentucky Derby mount in the coming weeks, although a rib and wrist fracture suffered at Aqueduct on Sunday, April 7 unfortunately has cast his chances of making the May 4 classic in doubt.
Verrazano’s pedigree has been examined in detail over the previous months, as More Than Ready has a penchant for siring milers as opposed to classic-distance horses. However, Verrazano is a supremely bred individual who has flashed the most raw talent of any 3-year-old this spring and should be a major factor in the Kentucky Derby, provided a clean trip. One of his many graded stakes-winning relatives on his dam’s side, multiple Grade 2-winning turfer Hungry Island, won her first start of 2013 at Keeneland on Sunday and looked great doing it.
Weekend notes: Two Grade 1 prep races for the Kentucky Oaks were also contested on April 6, and the results only add intrigue to what is shaping up to be one of the most contentious Oaks fields in years. Beholder, champion juvenile filly of 2012, controlled the pace throughout in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Oaks and cruised to a 2 3/4-length victory. The Henny Hughes filly, a half-sister to Into Mischief and campaigned by Spendthrift Farm, covered the distance in 1:43.16, good for a 97 Beyer. She now sits atop the Road to the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard with 164 points.
Another well-bred filly, Juddmonte Farms’ Emollient, returned to the track one week after a misfire in the Gulfstream Oaks and absolutely dominated a large field in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. The Empire Maker filly was sent to the front immediately by Mike Smith and left all challengers in her wake en route to a nine-length win. Her final time of 1:43.49 for 1 1/16 miles over Keeneland’s Polytrack calculated to a 97 Beyer figure.
Beholder, Emollient, and Close Hatches, another Juddmonte-owned filly who won the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct on Saturday, could join Dreaming of Julia, Midnight Lucky, and Unlimited Budget in a Kentucky Oaks field overflowing with talent.
Emollient is out of the Touch Gold mare Soothing Touch and comes from a female family that includes several top-class French runners such as Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Bago, Group 1 winner and leading sire Machiavellian, and Group 1 winners Coup de Genie, Denebola, and Exit to Nowhere.
At Aqueduct, Swagger Jack broke through with a three-quarter-length win in the Carter Handicap after running well this winter in graded stakes in Florida. The 5-year-old Smart Strike horse made a four-wide move in the stretch under Irad Ortiz Jr. and outfinished Sahara Sky and Discreet Dancer, covering seven furlongs in 1:21.44 and scoring a 105 Beyer. Swagger Jack began his racing career in 2011 on turf and synthetic surfaces but transitioned to dirt last year and has now developed into a Grade 1 winner. Bred in Virginia by Edward P. Evans, he is one of 10 winners out of the unraced The Minstrel mare Lyrical Prayer and is a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Tap Dance and to stakes winner Grand Prayer, the dam of Grade 1 winner Malibu Prayer.