04/07/2013 4:26PM

Kentucky Derby: Verrazano heads Wood Memorial trio heading to Louisville

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Barbara D. Livingston
John Velazquez has to decide whether he wants to ride Wood Memorial winner Verrazano (above) or Florida Derby winner Orb in the Kentucky Derby.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. -  Led by undefeated Verrazano, the top three finishers from Saturday’s $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct will all head to Churchill Downs early to begin preparing for the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

Verrazano, who may have stamped himself the Derby favorite with his three-quarter length victory in the Wood, and runner-up Normandy Invasion will fly to Kentucky next Sunday, their connections said. Verrazano received a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance in the Wood.

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

Vyjack, who suffered his first loss when finishing third, beaten one length, will also go early though it was uncertain whether he would be on that flight or not.

An endoscopic examination performed on Vyjack following the Wood showed mucus in his lungs and he will be treated with antibiotics for three or four days, according to trainer Rudy Rodriguez. It had originally been reported that Vyjack had bled, but Rodriguez and owner David Wilkenfeld clarified late Sunday morning that it was mucus and not blood.

 Despite their strong Derby credentials, none of top three Wood finishers had firm commitments from their riders regarding the Derby. John Velazquez said Sunday morning that he is hoping to get as much time as possible before deciding whether to ride Verrazano - undefeated in all four starts - or Orb, whom Velazquez rode to victories in the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth.

 Then, Velazquez went down in the seventh race Sunday at Aqueduct went his horse Katie Malone, clipped heels with a horse in front of him. Velazquez was taken to North Shore University Hospital complaining of pain to his shoulder.

 In 2006, Velazquez broke his right shoulder blade in a spill at Keeneland and missed the Kentucky Derby. Last June, Velazquez broke his right collarbone and missed six weeks.

 Provided Velazquez is healthy enough to ride, he said Sunday morning it will be a difficult decision not only because both horses “are very talented” but the two are trained by long-time clients Todd Pletcher (Verrazano) and Shug McGaughey (Orb).

“They’re my two main clients for the last 12, 13 years,” Velazquez said Sunday morning after working a trio of horses for Pletcher at Belmont Park. “I’m very lucky. They’re very, very understanding where I’m standing and everybody knows something happens to the horses anyway.”

 Velazquez’s only Derby win came in 2011 when he picked up Animal Kingdom after Uncle Mo scratched and Robby Albarado, named on Animal Kingdom, was taken off by Team Valor after he got kicked in the face by a horse a few days before the race.

 Verrazano was reported to have come out of the race in good order, by assistant trainer Michael McCarthy.

 Javier Castellano rode Normandy Invasion for the first time in the Wood Memorial and got him up for second, likely earning enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby.

 Last week, Castellano rode Revolutionary to victory in the Louisiana Derby. Castellano and his agent, Matt Muzikar, were to talk Sunday or Monday to discuss their options, according to Muzikar.

 Chad Brown, trainer of Normandy Invasion, said he hopes to have Castellano.

“Our main focus is to retain Javier,” Brown said Sunday morning. “If it becomes apparent for whatever reason we can’t then we’ll begin the process of deciding who we think fits the horse along with who’s actually available.”

 Rodriguez, the trainer of Vyjack, said other than the mucus, his horse came out of the Wood “very good” and he hopes to secure the services of Joel Rosario, who, according to Rodriguez, spoke very highly of Vyjack after the race.

 “He was very optimistic, He thought the race would help him for the Derby,” Rodriguez said. “He seems like he wanted to ride the horse.”

 Despite Vyjack suffering his first loss, Rodriguez remained high on his gelding.

 “I definitely wouldn’t change places with anybody. I think my horse is a very good horse,” he said.