03/09/2013 7:43PM

Verrazano answers all questions in Tampa Bay Derby

Tom Cooley
Verrazano cruised to a three-length victory in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby to remain unbeaten.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – The margin was only three lengths. As if that matters.

Verrazano overcame adversity Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, where the unbeaten colt affirmed his status as a leading Kentucky Derby contender with a solid, three-length victory in the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby.

Making his third career start, his first start around two turns, and facing serious early pace pressure, Verrazano put away pace rival Falling Sky on the far turn, opened up into the lane and coasted home without a threat. He finished in 1:43.96 and scored a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 101. Questions answered.

“We found out he could travel, handle two turns over a quirky racetrack, and he got a little dirt in his face,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s come a long way in 60 days.”

Verrazano won his debut Jan. 1 and his second start Feb. 2, both one-turn races at Gulfstream Park.

But the Tampa Bay Derby presented a new challenge for Verrazano and jockey John Velazquez, who won five races Saturday. At the start, Verrazano stumbled and grabbed a quarter on his right front. It was bleeding after the race but did not appear serious.

“He stumbled pretty good,” Velazquez said.

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

Velazquez let Verrazano show his speed, and into the first turn, he raced inside Falling Sky, and the two alternated on the lead through an opening quarter-mile in 23.50 seconds. Entering the backstretch, Velazquez took Verrazano back.

“I didn’t want to get caught up going head-and-head with that guy,” Velazquez said, referring to jockey Jose Espinoza and Falling Sky.

When Verrazano took back, Falling Sky cleared. That allowed Velazquez to guide Verrazano outside his pace rival. The rest was history.

Falling Sky went the opening half-mile in a quick 47.69 seconds, but Verrazano was lapped on him from the outside. When Velazquez said, “Go,” it was over.

“At the three-eighths pole, I let him do his thing,” Velazquez said.

Verrazano opened up, and though runner-up Java’s War entered the stretch with a head of steam rallying from last, the outcome never was in doubt for Verrazano, who returned $2.80.

“It was nice to get the 50 points,” Pletcher said, referring to the Kentucky Derby qualifying system. The trainer said Verrazano was likely to start next in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, with the Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby the second and third options.

Java’s War finished 4 1/4 lengths in front of third-place Falling Sky. Dynamic Sky finished fourth.

Trainer Ken McPeek was pleased with the effort of Java’s War. “He ran really well,” McPeek said. “He just hooked a freak on the front end. No disgrace.”

McPeek will talk with owner Charles Fipke before determining his next start, but he said the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the UAE Derby are two primary options.

Attendance on Saturday at Tampa was 10,476.

RICARDO H More than 1 year ago
Kenny Black More than 1 year ago
i thought this colts 1/2 brother was El padrino who was one of my early picks for the derby he didn't seem to have near the pure speed of this colt but i was disappointed that he didn't do a lot better as the races stretched out,(appeared to me maybe not the most honest trier????)but despite this colts raw speed if you watch closely he appears to be slightly intimidated by the horse outside going into the 1st turn his head came up and his nose was somewhat pointed outward as if he was shying away from the other horse, (just green) despite the jocks comments i strongly believe that was the reason he took back further and came around i haven't seen a head on down the backside but from the pan shot it appears johhny v. either took him a few further out to the middle of track coming off the turn down the backside or the colt possibly again was shying from the horse now to his inside (same horse,)but if it was johnny's decision it was smart and it worked because the most impressive thing in his performance was when he took back and abruptly went to the outside the horse's sitting to his outside ranged up quickly and i'm sure would've loved to trap the heavy favorite (who had never experienced kickback before )j.v. was forced to step on the gas pedal at a not prime time to do so in any situation let alone a young fast colt first time around to turns so early on but had only 2 options that or be trapped inside ??? I thought despite it's success it was a rather odd choice 4 a couple reasons . I'm guessing johhny has been on him enough(or possibly his agent angel cordero jr the greatest jockey in the world so he'd tell me all the time LOL LOVE YA JR. WON'T GET ANY ARGUEMENT FROM ME ,LOL,NEVER DID.!!) to feel confident he could settle him back down and get him rate and still finish ??not to many horses with his speed at that age and maturity would due that or any age CAN do that and then rebreak when asked plain and simple the horse made2 to moves first time around 2 turns and that was the most impressive thing about this race to me,HINT TO THE OPPOSITION IF THE CHANCE TO PUT THIS COLT PRESENTED IT TO ME IN EARLY MAY IN LOUISVILLE I'D SURELY MAKE THE EFFORT TO BURY IBSIDE AND BEHIND HORSES AGAIN JUST FOR MORE THAN 2 JUMPS ,WAY MORE BUT HE'S BRILLIANTLY TALENTED SO YOU BETTER BE MOUNTED TO DO SO,PERSONALLY FELT THAT JOHNNYS DECISION WAS A BIT SUDDEN AND UNUSUAL FOR A COLT WHO IS PREPPY FOR THE DERBY AND NEEDS Experience he had the perfect chance to do so,(and although todd says he gained valuable experience today i thought it could've been much better possible johnny already kmew the horse doesn't like to run inside and into dirt that move looked like he was riding for today only not thinking 1st sat. in may and like he already had tried to educate and failed in the a.m. basically a very impressive stop and go and still go again race for colt although not something I'd attemp everyday obviously worked quite well today just curious ride,just one old bug boys thoughts ,congrtas to all connected johnny,todd ,the owners ,my man angel, and whitey,kenny
rsac56 More than 1 year ago
Priority was getting 50 pts. Next race will be about education. Not a "must win".
Jason More than 1 year ago
Answer all questions? Lol. Dumbest headline ever, wow. He beat nobody going 1 1/16 miles at TB, hilarious to read comments of those there saying this horse is a beast. 1 1/16 at TB is night and day from 1 1/4 at CD, and backing a More Than Ready horse at anything over 1 1/8, at a short price, is plain silly!
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
A lot have forgotten about Itsmyluckyday. You have no idea his numbers came back from his last 2. He is right there with Verrazano.
Neil Moran More than 1 year ago
I was there and watched the race standing along the rail and it was just too easy for him. I think he will go all the way.
Justin More than 1 year ago
I can't find any fault with this horse.. This could be the year a favorite finally wins the Derby.
Thomas s More than 1 year ago
If Pletcher puts Johnny on him in the big race, does that mean he thinks he's the best he's got? Big strong horse wore pace down and ran away from field in greenish fashion. Not the only one in Derby group to get that done. Wish this was his tenth start.....so much for 40 years ago right? At this rate, our average number of starts for a 3 year old starting the Derby will be 3. A maiden, an allowance and win one fifty pointer to get in. Cannonade had 17 as a two year old. I guess trainers don't get paid by the start anymore.
mikey More than 1 year ago
All these winners in the derby preps do not mean much.....the game has changed wherein the breeding are for milers is starting to hit the climax......and the training are for mostly sprinters......then they keep their fingers cross and hope they hit a lightning in a bottle and get 10 furlongs.....oh yeah just my humble opinion......but nobody pays attention.....
Carlos More than 1 year ago
Verrazano is a really good horse. I was there, and this horse is a monster. Watch the replay like 10 times, and look for the 2nd place Java's War. They were just moving away from the field. Java's needs another lap to pass Verrazano. He wasn't gaining any ground on Verrazano. just look at the race again and you will see that once the cross the finish line Verrazano keep going and nobody got close to him. HE'S FOR REAL 1 1/8, 1 1/4, 1 3/16, whatever. He will be fine.
Dan C More than 1 year ago
Verrazano is a very nice colt. But we do not know for sure if he beat a legitimate Grade 2 field or some nice allowance horses. But the Beyer and time were high class for this stage of his career.