Updated on 07/31/2013 8:13AM

Haskell Invitational: Verrazano much the best

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Mark Wyville/Equi-Photo
Verrazano and jockey John Velazquez win the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational by a record 9 3/4 lengths Sunday at Monmouth Park.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Verrazano had been devastatingly brilliant before, just never on the big stage. On Sunday, in front of a crowd of 36,294 at Monmouth Park – including a large contingent of friends and family for his locally based ownership group – Verrazano dazzled under the bright lights.

Stalking the pacesetting Oxbow – the winner of the Preakness – until the middle of the far turn, Verrazano seized control of the  $1 million Haskell Invitational approaching the quarter pole, then in the stretch turned New Jersey’s premier Thoroughbred race into a one-horse affair, drawing off to a record-setting 9 3/4-length victory under jockey John Velazquez.

Power Broker finished second by six lengths over Micromanage, who nosed out Oxbow for third.

The margin of victory was the largest in the 46-year history of the Haskell, eclipsing the seven-length margin Bluegrass Cat won by in 2006.

Oxbow finished a head in front of Pick of the Litter. Vyjack and Golden Soul completed the order of finish.

Oxbow appeared to suffer an injury that likely will keep him out of the $1 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 24. Jockey Gary Stevens jumped off Oxbow after the race, sensing something was not right.

Deborah Lamparter, the New Jersey state veterinarian based at Monmouth Park, said she arrived at the barn as doctors were finishing taking X-rays of Oxbow’s right ankle.

“It is my understanding that there were no fractures, and it was likely a soft-tissue injury,” Lamparter told the Monmouth publicity department.

Stevens said Oxbow felt off to him after the race.

“When I got him pulled up, I didn’t like what I was feeling,” Stevens said. “He was visibly off. I didn’t want to bring him back in front of the grandstand; I got the weight off of him. He’s fine. He’s walking sound enough, but he wasn’t jogging sound.”

The equine ambulance came onto the track, but Oxbow was walked off by his handlers.

Meanwhile, Verrazano, trained by Todd Pletcher for the locally based Let’s Go Stable of Bryan Sullivan and Kevin Scatuorchio, put himself back into the 3-year-old picture with his monster performance.

“I would say he made a huge statement today,” said Pletcher, who won the Haskell for a third time. “That was certainly one of if not the most impressive performances any 3-year-old has run this year. I can’t think of too many more that were much better than that – really, ever.”

While the final time of 1:50.68 was the slowest Haskell since 1978, the Monmouth track was deep and slow for most of the humid, overcast afternoon.

Verrazano, a son of More Than Ready, added the Haskell to victories in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, and the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes. Overall, he is 6 for 7, with his only loss a 14th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, which was run over a sloppy track. He has earned $1.5 million.

Verrazano’s victory more than likely earned him a spot in the Travers, where he would take on, among others, Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, who won Saturday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga most impressively, and Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Palace Malice also is trained by Pletcher.

“The Travers would be a logical goal, the way he finished today at a mile and an eighth over what was a very deep, demanding, tiring track through the week,” Pletcher said. “He seemed like he handled it really well, finished strongly, pricking his ears at the wire like he was looking for more.”

Velazquez said Verrazano was comfortable sitting off Oxbow early on, got a little into the bridle when Power Broker came to him down the backside, but relaxed again when he got  away from Power Broker.

“He was awesome, man; he was incredible today,” Velazquez said. “He was instant, too. When I asked him, he was right there. I didn’t want to hit him. I hit him with the whip down under the belly to let him know he needed to do something. I never actually had to hit him with the whip until today.”

The winner’s circle was packed with friends and family of the Sullivans and Scatuorchios, who donated 1.5 percent of the purse, or $9,000, to a local charity – savethejerseyshore.org – that helps Jersey Shore residents recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

“Tears in my eyes, special,” Sullivan said of the victory. “Lot of pressure; horse showed up, and he’s a really, really nice horse.”