07/26/2013 3:45PM

Monmouth: Haskell provides Verrazano with shot to rejoin division's top tier

Barbara D. Livingston
Micromanage (left) and Verrazano, training earlier this week at Saratoga, are uncoupled stablemates for Todd Pletcher in Sunday's Haskell Invitational.

Entering the weekend, the leadership in the 3-year-old division is a three-way battle among classic winners Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice.

On Sunday, Verrazano would like to crash that party when he faces Preakness winner Oxbow and five others in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park.

The early leader of the 3-year-old division, Verrazano – winner of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby – didn’t handle the sloppy conditions at Churchill Downs nor have the best of trips when finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

[HASKELL INVITATIONAL: Get PPs, watch Sunday’s card live]

“The one thing you can’t control is what the surface is going to be like at Churchill. That’s always underrated,” said Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Verrazano. “It could have been fast and he might not have liked it, but he certainly didn’t appreciate the way it was that day.”

There is a 60-percent chance of scattered storms in Oceanport, N.J., on Sunday, but Pletcher doesn’t have any excuses going into the Haskell. Verrazano got a successful tour of Monmouth Park last month when he won the Pegasus Stakes by 9 1/4 lengths in a race where his main rival, Itsmyluckyday, was pulled up early due to injury.

Verrazano -- owned in part by Jersey Shore residents Bryan Sullivan and Kevin Scatuorchio, who race as Let’s Go Stable -- has since come back with a series of steady workouts. At Friday’s post position draw, Verrazano drew the outside in the seven-horse field, giving jockey John Velazquez options as he decides whether to go to the lead or sit off the speedy Oxbow, who will break from post 5 under Gary Stevens.

“What I look forward to is a truly run race in which he can get into a really good rhythm,” said Pletcher, a two-time Haskell winner. “I don’t think he’s the kind of horse that wants to be thrown down. If anything, in the Wood Memorial, we probably had a little too much hold of him. I think he’s a free-running horse. He’s got a high cruising speed. If you don’t go with him you’re going to be in trouble and if you do you’re going to be in trouble.

“We’re not in there to take back,” Pletcher added. “At the same time we wouldn’t mind following Oxbow if the fractions were legit.”

Calumet Farm’s Oxbow, a son of Awesome Again, won the Preakness in front-running fashion and then finished a game second to Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes. His trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, has altered Oxbow’s training pattern in hopes of having a fresh and multi-dimensional horse for the second half of the season.

Instead of regular workouts and counterclockwise jogs and gallops, Oxbow was jogged and galloped 1 1/2 miles to two miles each morning at Saratoga in clockwise fashion, also known as the wrong way.

“I would like to get a little bit more of a dimension on this horse where I can do more with him,” said Lukas, who won the 1995 Haskell with the filly Serena’s Song. “We’re not always going to get a Preakness situation. I feel pretty good where I got him mentally.”

Lukas said he has been impressed with how well Oxbow physically handled the rigors of the Triple Crown. He was one of just three horses – Orb and Will Take Charge were the other two – to have run in all three Triple Crown races.

Only four times in the last 20 runnings has the Haskell been won by a horse who did not participate in any of the three Triple Crown races. Bob Baffert, who has won six Haskells, including the last three, won the race in 2011 with Coil and in 2005 with Roman Ruler, neither of whom ran in a Triple Crown race. On Sunday, he will saddle Power Broker.

Baffert had wavered on whether to send Power Broker to the Haskell, ultimately deciding to do so following a strong workout at Del Mar on Monday.

Power Broker, who could also figure into the early pace scenario, is coming off a win in the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont on June 8.

“He’s been training well,” Baffert said. “It’s going to be a good class check for him. I think he deserves a chance. I could’ve easily gone to [Mountaineer for the West Virginia Derby]. He’s not going to be the favorite. If he could run first or second it’d be worth the trip.”

Rosie Napravnik rides Power Broker from post 4.

Micromanage is another trying to win the Haskell without having run in a Triple Crown race. After a disappointing end to his 2-year-old season, Micromanage has won 2 of 3 starts this year. He is 2 for 2 at Monmouth, including a victory in the Long Branch Stakes on July 7, when he overcame a troubled trip.

“He needs to continue to move forward,” said Pletcher, who trains Micromanage for Mike Repole. “He’s going to have to take it to another level. He’s training as though he can do that. We’ll see.”

Joe Bravo rides Micromanage from post 6.

Micromanage would benefit from a rapid early pace, as would Golden Soul, who finished second to Orb in the Kentucky Derby at 34-1. Golden Soul did little running in the Belmont, finishing ninth.

Vyjack began the year with a pair of graded stakes victories over Aqueduct’s inner track. He was beaten only a length by Verrazano in the Wood Memorial before finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby and eighth, albeit with a wide trip, in the Belmont.

Vyjack also was entered in Saturday’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga, but owner David Wilkenfeld said Friday night the horse would run in the Haskell. Paco Lopez rides.

Pick of the Litter, unraced since finishing third in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in April, completes the field.

The Haskell will be run as race 13 on a 14-race card that begins at noon Eastern and includes four other graded stakes.

The Haskell is the last leg of a pick four wager with a guaranteed pool of $250,000. Monmouth Park is also offering a pick five wager on races 8 through 12 with a guaranteed pool of $100,000.

AndrewD More than 1 year ago
Like I said, he rolls today. He's the best 3 year-old in the country.
AndrewD More than 1 year ago
Verrazano rolls today.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
When the races move back to Aqueduct all Repole's NY starters will run in his name.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Really look at those horses its comical maybe more to come
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
Theres another one in the 4th race at Monmouth LOL Get that money $$ boys
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
They usually start these big days off with a big price or prices somewhere in the early portion of the card. The moneys$$ there and they get it early. Use to be and is still common in Harness Racing 2/5 will break and 876 will come in big Its just larceny be careful and have fun most know whats going on
Holybull More than 1 year ago
Although this is somewhat off topic, I feel compelled to say something regarding the first race at Monmouth today. The winner of this first level allowance went off at 32-1. he had competed at this same level on dirt and turf his last 2 races. in both races he ran dead last and was never in contention. I checked to see if the horse had been gelded and he was gelded last year, NOT recently. My only conclusion is that the fix was in in his last two races. This is the type of thing that is a detriment to racing even in this day and age. Sad that trainers and participating Jockeys have to resort to cheating in order to make it in this sport. I'm done with Monmouth. Will never place another wager again there as i can NOT trust the trainers, jockeys and even the stewards.
michael More than 1 year ago
Trainer Serey was run out of the sport a few years ago. Does that tell you all you need to know. How many times did Escalante have it.
Vince More than 1 year ago
3 for 26 this year and 16% over the last five..............does THAT tell you all you need to know.
Vince More than 1 year ago
Folks like you make me laugh. I guess favorites should win every race Magical Fire breaks his maiden on the dirt wire to wire Next out the comment is weakend not urged in a race that goes in 109.....so the far back finish in terms of lengths is irrelevant. Could have bent a shoe , could have been sick. Then gets put in a 5 f turf race against pretty fast horses and didnt like the grass. Takes a month off and wins in a pretty slow time similar to his maiden breaker on the front end. Would I have had it...NO....was he impossible NO
michael More than 1 year ago
Yeah, we're fools who want honest racing and get trainers like dutrow and vets who have needles with cobra venom like the French trainer had. One non descript trainer had two big prices yesterday. Guess it was just his day huh??
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
Another inconveient truth. A well said truth, at that. Thank you for an intelligent post. Common sense ain't that common.
cody e More than 1 year ago
Johnny V. will set right behind Oxbow and Power Broker, and when they give in, he will pass them.
Vince More than 1 year ago
I agree but I think Verrazano will be passing them
Robynrokn More than 1 year ago
Don't think OXBOW is actually fast enough to get in front of Vzano or PB and if he does, he'll fade. Paco probably jump Vyjack out there anyway.
Allan Gauthier More than 1 year ago
He's either first on the ticket, or off it all together. First or nothing! Remember that betting the exotics.
Robynrokn More than 1 year ago
Keep an eye for the show pool bridge jump as well. See the Spa and DelMar yesterday.
r t More than 1 year ago
vyjack comes strong, hear hes tearing the bar down, hes all go and anyone with a goodfella sense knows what the nose knows....................