06/14/2013 12:46PM

Monmouth: Kentucky Derby also-rans Verrazano, Itsmyluckyday rematched in Pegasus

Barbara D. Livingston
Verrazano will try to regroup from a 14th place finish in the Kentucky Derby and get a feel for Monmouth's main track before the Haskell Invitational in Sunday's Pegasus.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – The first major stakes for 3-year-olds following the Triple Crown is a good one: a rematch between Verrazano and Itsmyluckyday on Sunday in the Grade 3, $150,000 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park.

The Pegasus kicks off the second half of the season for the division. It also serves a prep for the meet’s premier event – and the long-range target for Verrazano and Itsmyluckyday – the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational on July 28.

Neither of the two headliners fared well in their prior meeting in the Kentucky Derby. Both struggled in the slop at Churchill Downs.

Verrazano went into the Derby undefeated in four races, including the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. He ran 14th, sustaining a hock gash that trainer Todd Pletcher said healed in a matter of days.

Itsmyluckyday was 15th, a major disappointment after running second to eventual Derby winner Orb in the Florida Derby.

And now they meet again, facing five outclassed rivals in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Verrazano makes his first start since the Derby.

“Pretty much after the Derby we decided we weren’t going to run in the Preakness or the Belmont,” Pletcher said. “Our main focus became the Haskell. I felt it was a little too much time to train, from the Derby to the Haskell. I was trying to find a nice bridge to that and felt like this made the most sense, six weeks after the Derby and six weeks to the Haskell. We get a race over the track, so it seemed like a logical spot.”

Itsmyluckyday remained on the Triple Crown trail, bouncing back nicely to run second to Oxbow in the Preakness. Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. never considered the Belmont Stakes.

“Not even one little itty-bitty thought,” Plesa said. “Our concern all along was the Derby, the Preakness, and the Haskell. You could look at it that Palace Malice had our kind of trip in the Belmont, but we never gave the race a thought at all.”

Itsmyluckyday will have the services of Mike Smith, the Belmont Stakes-winning jockey, as they break from post 6.

John Velazquez, aboard Itsmyluckyday for the Preakness, will honor his long-running relationship with Pletcher and Verrazano.

“We understand that Johnny V had a long-standing commitment to Todd,” Plesa said. “That’s good to see in this business. Fortunately, Mike Smith was interested in riding our horse.”

Beyond the top two, it’s hard to make a case for the other five runners: Edge of Reality, Gefest, Bethel, and the entry of Reporting Star and Kanturk Kid.

None has won an open stakes.

“As always, strange things can happen in a race,” Plesa said. “Those other horses are in there for a reason. I’m sure their connections are hoping for an upset, and that’s what it would be.”

From the rail, Verrazano figures to be the early pace factor. He could have company from Edge of Reality, a sprinter breaking from post 2 while stretching out for the first time.

“In a perfect world, we’d like to be where we could stalk Itsmyluckyday,” Pletcher said. “We’ll just let him run his race and see how it unfolds. Our horse is pretty fast, if we want to let him run. He’s got sprinter speed. We’re not going to be taking back.”

◗ The New Jersey-bred handicap division gets a rare opportunity to run long on the turf in the supporting feature, the $60,000 Dan Horn. Hermosillo, a veteran presence in these statebred battles, makes his grass debut as a 9-year-old.