Updated on 05/01/2013 9:02PM

Kentucky Derby: Verrazano tries to buck history

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Barbara D. Livingston
Verrazano, putting in his penultimate Kentucky Derby work at Churchill Downs, will try to become the first horse to win the Derby without racing at 2 since Apollo in 1882.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In 1882, Jesse James was killed, false teeth and the electric iron were patented, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” opened in Moscow, and Apollo won the Kentucky Derby without having raced at age 2.

A lot has happened in the 130 years since, especially in regards to dental care. But no horse since Apollo has been able to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old, something Verrazano will be trying to accomplish on Saturday in the 139th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

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Verrazano has won all four of his starts, and since his second start on Feb. 2 he has been acknowledged as the favorite for the Derby. But his standing has wavered the past fortnight, so much so that after the field was drawn Wednesday for the Derby, both Mike Battaglia, who makes the line at Churchill Downs, and Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, dropped him to the second choice, behind Florida Derby winner Orb.

Battaglia has Orb at 7-2, with Verrazano at 4-1. Watchmaker has Orb at 5-1, with Verrazano at 6-1. On Watchmaker’s line, three horses – Goldencents, Normandy Invasion, and Revolutionary – are next at 8-1. Goldencents is a stand-alone third choice with Battaglia at 5-1.

Verrazano drew post 14 and Orb post 16 when posts were drawn Wednesday night at Churchill Downs. There were 21 entered in the race, but a maximum of 20 can run.

Verrazano thus will break from the outside post in the main gate. Orb will be part of the six-horse auxiliary gate. When Verrazano’s post was drawn, posts 1 and 2 were still available, and trainer Todd Pletcher was anxious, fearing an inside draw.

“Phew, that was big,” said Pletcher, who wanted to be outside Falling Sky, a speed horse who already had landed post 13.
Pletcher entered a record-tying five horses in the Derby. In addition to Verrazano, he is represented by Charming Kitten (post 15), Overanalyze (9), Palace Malice (10), and Revolutionary (3).

Shug McGaughey, trainer of Orb, was happy where he wound up.

“I didn’t want the 2 or 3,” he said. “Fourteen or 16 would have been my two picks if they had been handed to me.”

Horses who drew poorly included Vyjack, who landed the outside post 20. Trainer Kenny McPeek’s duo of Frac Daddy and Java’s War are in posts 18 and 19, respectively, but post position was less important for Java’s War, who has no early speed and rallies from far back.

Entries were due Wednesday morning and were drawn early Wednesday evening on national television by Churchill Downs racing office officials using a traditional method whereby an entry card is pulled simultaneously with a numbered pill being pulled from a plastic bottle. The number on the pill is the post assigned to the horse whose name is on that entry card.

A maximum of 20 horses can run in the Derby. With 21 entered, the horses were ranked by points earned in designated prep races, a system instituted this year by Churchill Downs to replace the previous method, which used earnings in all graded stakes races. The top 20 drew for posts, with Fear the Kitten being placed on an also-eligible list. He can only draw into the Derby if there is a scratch from the main body of the race by scratch time Friday morning, when betting on the Derby commences.

Fear the Kitten ended up on the also-eligible list because Giant Finish was a late addition to the field Tuesday night. The 10 points Giant Finish had earned placed him 20th on the points list and knocked Fear the Kitten – whose connections announced Monday their intention to run – back to 21st. Another horse, Carving, also was being considered for the Derby on Tuesday, but because he would have been 22nd and in need of two scratches by Friday to get into the Derby, his connections decided not to fly him from Washington, where he has been training since a recent private purchase.

Giant Finish was expected to arrive Thursday. Lines of Battle, the invader from Ireland, arrived in the early hours Wednesday and was housed in a quarantine barn in the Churchill Downs stable area, standard procedure for foreign horses because of U.S. Department of Agriculture protocol. He will be able to go to the main track Friday, assuming his blood work is fine.

Verrazano made his debut Jan. 1, going 6 1/2 furlongs against maidens at Gulfstream Park. He cruised to a 7 3/4-length victory. But it was his next start, a one-mile allowance at Gulfstream that he won by 16 1/4 lengths while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 105, that rocketed him to the top of most Derby rankings.

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Verrazano then went to Tampa Bay Downs, where he won the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, and he completed his pre-Derby campaign with a hard-fought victory in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 6.

“He’s come a long ways from being an unstarted maiden when he woke up on New Year’s Day,” Pletcher said. “He’s done a lot in a short amount of time – winning at 6 1/2 furlongs, then a mile, then at Tampa, then in New York. To do all of that speaks to his quality.”

It also, perhaps, speaks to why no horse without a start at 2 has won the Derby since 1882. That’s a lot of development to compress into just four months.

Verrazano has been able to get this far, Pletcher believes, not only because of his raw talent, but because he has the physical constitution to handle it.

“He’s a tremendous physical specimen,” Pletcher said. “He’s gotten bigger and stronger as we’ve gone along.”

Pletcher has one Derby win from 31 starters in 12 Derbies. He has run five horses in the Derby before, in 2007, when his best finish was sixth with Circular Quay. D. Wayne Lukas ran five in 1996 and won with Grindstone, and Nick Zito had five in 2005, his best finish seventh with Bellamy Road.

On a recent teleconference, Pletcher, who enjoys playing poker, was asked if his Derby hand this year was akin to having four aces in Texas hold ’em.

“Holding four aces in this game is a little different than Texas hold ’em,” he said. “We’ve been there with five, as have Zito and Lukas. But having five doesn’t mean you’ll win. I have a tremendous appreciation for how difficult it is to win the Derby.”

Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Im not backing Verrazano to win the Derby but if he does, he demands respect. 5 for 5 with three graded wins? Here is what makes me a skeptic with this horse. Knowing Pletcher's history and how horses end up in his care, if Verrazano wins or loses this race, he will probably have sustained an injury that will force him into retirement this coming week. It happens alarmingly often with the trainer.
Thomas Georgetown More than 1 year ago
How many Derby entries have been unraced at two through those 130 years? Is there one at least every year? Since my pick, Vyjack has such a bad post position I may have to use Mooch J's hat handicapping tip. :-)
Nicholas Carraway More than 1 year ago
Since 1937, horses unraced at 2 have a Derby record of 57-0-3-4.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
If you buck wit history, history gunn buck you back!
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
That not running at two because of not having enough foundation known as The "Apollo Jinx" will be broken soon (the sooner the better) Having a foundation is just part of it. In order to get foundation in the first place you must have an early developer, so to win the Derby you must have an early developer opposed to a "late bloomer" and if you have an early developer it will most likely start running at two. Also, previously If your horse runs at two and earns enough money at two/early three you can pick your spots, therefore you are not under pressure to win a certain prep race that you might have to go all out for. I don't think you can get much foundation with a late bloomer at two no matter when they were born, you just won't do much against the early developers and it's probably not such a good idea you even run them at two. You have two year olds running now and you also have three year olds that are first time starters running now. Many trainers don't draw straws to see who starts at two or three, they take the early developers and start them early and waits with the late bloomers. And I understand all about early and late foals but there are plenty of early foals that are late bloomers and don't start until three. Many are against starting a two year old in the first place, but with early developers that is where their value is and there is plenty of money to be made at two and three. At two it's all about brute strength (Uncle Mo types) but by Derby time in their 3 year old season their three year old peers might be catching up to them, then it's about talent and not just brute strength. As the weeks and months go by the later bloomers with talent will catch up with them, some will pass them. I have coached youth sports and we have all seen these 12-13 year old raging bulls already with muscles and I swear I can see 5 o'clock shadows on some of them,They had brute strength but by the time they reach 16 they better have some talent and confidence or those late bloomers will fly right past them. Horses are a lot like peopl
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
No horse has ever won the Derby from post 14 while it's owner was wearing a yellow hat, so I will be checking hats before I bet
Tom Shea More than 1 year ago
I love it ,, too funny
"Roy Hobbs" More than 1 year ago
I must correct you. If my memory serves me well, Mrs. Price wore a yellow bonnet when Carry Back won the Derby from post 14 in 1961. That is also the year in which Roger Maris hit 61 home runs (still the record in my view) without a yellow cap.
Sir More than 1 year ago
Maybe I'll get higher than 50-1 on Black Onyx.
Mooch J More than 1 year ago
It's the Derby so he will be half the odds he would normally be in a 20 horse field
Derek Getty More than 1 year ago
Verrazano got VERY lucky with the post draw. Every speed horse is inside of him; that means he can sit out side them and track. If he was inside and had horses come over on him, that's where his inexperience would come into play. He's never been cut off or had to deal with adversity. Do you really want to take a horse going into the K.D. who never ran at 2, has never been in trouble, is a question at the distance and is going to run against 20 horses?? Yes, he's big and yes he's very talented but so was Curlin under the EXACT same scenario and he was third. Look for Verrazano to be 3rd or 4th. In contrast, look at Revolutionary - Raced at 2, hammered coming out of the gate, cut off so many times he felt like a piece of fat on a steak and circled a 14 horse field 6 wide the whole way around the corner, only to be passed down the stretch, fight back and pull away at the wire. Plus, there is no question about the distance. He mom won a G1 at 1 1/4 miles. Oh yeah, did I mention he picked up the jockey who has won 3 of the last 6 derbies? Wow. from a handicapping point of view, if you get this guy at 8-1 or better, leap to the betting window!
russell More than 1 year ago
I think Watchmaker's odds are probably better. I'd be surprised if any horse was under 5/1. Most of the top contenders make sense but since when does the Derby make sense? I can see Verrazanno and Goldencents being 1st or 15th. Ditto Itsmyluckyday. Normandy Invasion and Orb should be there barring some traffic disaster. Revolutionary looks like a horse that finds trouble. Talented but a tough bet at short odds.
scott More than 1 year ago
HOW ABOUT WHY NOTHING WORKS ON THIS SITE THIS MORNING. WHAT A JOKE
Harvey Savitsky More than 1 year ago
Something is working as we can all read your complaint!!
Sir More than 1 year ago
Try hitting the key or the left-click mouse button.
"Roy Hobbs" More than 1 year ago
It's always difficult with dial-up.
jose mesa More than 1 year ago
If Goldencents does not break and at least run for the lead and secure a spot in the top group before the first turn I think hes toast.The other quick colts are ALL outside of him and will be cutting in front of the field trying to make the lead or be in the first group.All the trainers do not want to start from the one or two post and I believe one or both of the colts starting in tose posts will at least break out of the gate and establish a forward position if Goldencents jockey tries to restrain him from getting to the front he could be squeezed back by the inside and outside runners.