04/06/2013 6:49PM

Wood Memorial: Verrazano remains undefeated

Barbara D. Livingston
Verrazano holds off Normandy Invasion (left) and Vyjack (center) to win the Wood Memorial.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Undefeated, but no longer untested, Verrazano turned back the challenges of logical contenders Normandy Invasion and Vyjack to win Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by three-quarters of a length and perhaps earn himself the role as favorite for the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

Normandy Invasion rallied furiously to get second by a neck over previously undefeated Vyjack, likely earning the necessary points to get into the Derby field.

Vyjack, who suffered his first loss after winning the first four races of his career, will likely head to Louisville. He was third, 3 3/4 lengths in front of fourth-place finisher Mr Palmer, who was followed by Elnaawi, Chrisandthecapper, Quinzieme Monarque, Go Get the Basil, and Always in a Tiz. Freedom Child finished last but was declared a non-starter by the stewards as he was deemed in the hands of the assistant starter when the gates opened.

While not as dominant as he had shown in his previous three starts - including a three-length victory in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby last month - Verrazano was good enough to beat two quality horses and earn his owners, the Lets Go Stable of Bryan Sullivan and Kevin Scatuorchio, their first Grade 1 win.

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

He also gave trainer Todd Pletcher his third Wood Memorial victory in the last four years. Eskendereya (2010) did not make it to the Derby while Gemologist (2012) finished 16th.

“I feel good, I think there’s only one result we could have left here happy with and we got it,” Pletcher said in the blustery Aqueduct winner’s circle.

Verrazano was ridden by John Velazquez, who last week won the Florida Derby on Orb. While Pletcher said he expects Velazquez to ride his horse in the Kentucky Derby, Velazquez said he would like to wait before he has to make a decision.

“I’d be very stupid if I made a decision right now,” said Velazquez, who has seen top quality Derby contenders get sick or injured a week before the race.

Verrazano, sitting second, stalked Chrisandthecapper through a half-mile in 24.89 seconds and a half-mile in 49. Entering the far turn, Velazquez sent Verrazano to the lead but Chrisandthecapper  stayed with him for several strides.

Turning into the stretch, Verrazano grabbed a clear lead, but Vyjack, who was a close-up fifth, tried to make a run at Verrazano, but he appeared to flatten out in deep stretch.

Normandy Invasion, who saved all the ground while in sixth under Javier Castellano, came running in the stretch and though he was able to nip Vyjack, he was unable to get to Verrazano.

Verrazano, a son of More Than Ready, covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.27 and returned $3.60 as the 4-5 favorite.

“I never hit him, he was running good enough I didn’t have to hit him,” Velazquez said. “I didn’t even see [Normandy Invasion]. I thought Vyjack was the only one fighting me.”

Pletcher said he thought the Wood was another lesson learned for Verrazano, who will try to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old.

“I think he’s still learning, he’s had a tendency to kind of idle a little bit and wait on company down the lane, I thought he did that a little bit,” Pletcher said. “It’s the first time he really had horses real close to him at the finish of a race. Hopefully, every step we make is a learning experience for him and he learns to polish these races off a little better.”

Pletcher said he Verrazano would likely ship to Kentucky on April 14 and train at Churchill for three weeks leading up to the Derby.

Normandy Invasion, who was coming off a fifth-place finish in the Risen Star, probably earned the necessary points (40, he now has 44) to get into the Derby field by finishing second. He was kept a little closer to the pace than usual, but still came with a strong late run.

“I’m happy with my horse’s performance, very grateful to get up for second and get the points to hopefully get into the Derby,” trainer Chad Brown said. “And if the horse comes back good I don’t see any reason why a mile and a quarter third off the layoff shouldn’t really hit him between the eyes.”

Vyjack acted a little skittish in the paddock, but put in a solid effort. Like Normandy Invasion, Vyjack was probably impacted by the slow pace.

“I was hoping that the horse on the lead would go a little farther,” said Rudy Rodriguez, trainer of Vyjack. “He didn’t have the kick that he had the other day but we were happy the way he ran.”

Rodriguez said Vyjack would most likely move on to the Kentucky Derby.

The last Wood Memorial winner to come back and win the Kentucky Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, the 20th Wood starter to win the Derby. However, since 2004, the Wood has produced 19 Kentucky Derby starters with no better than a fourth-place finish.

Honnimae More than 1 year ago
I find it amazing that everyone has so much to say about Rudy and Doug , What about Todd and Steve. Steve is the Worst Cheat out there Followed by Todd
Thomas s More than 1 year ago
The benefit to not having a dominant colt is the tix will be bigger. I see 5 solid colts. Problem is they are only solid, not much more. Maybe the dead closer will have a shot. Issue is no dominant closer. I think the V horse is beatable.....just need someone who can beat him. Good stuff.
NeilNap More than 1 year ago
244 comments of speculation and 20/20 hindsight. The reality is, these horses, because of modern training tendencies, are still developing week to week, month to month. NONE of them have anywhere near the foundation that used to be a requirement to win the Derby. Yes, some of them show a lot of promise and exciting potential, but that's about it at this stage. A horse with 4 starts as the Derby favorite? As much as I like Verazzano, that's tough to take. The best we should hope for, regardless of who you are wagering on, is that the Derby is won by a horse with the potential to move forward and continue to progress towards the next two. Someone to bring excitement and fans to the game. It is 4 weeks out and it is impossible to have any strong feelings about who should be a worthy favorite. It's just the way the game is played today, and the way that breeding $ has impacted the sport in a very negative way. That said, looking forward to a safe trip for these guys, an exciting race, and hopefully a very worthy winner on the first Saturday in May.
JHart More than 1 year ago
Probably one of the best posts I've seen on this site. Well said.
Thomas s More than 1 year ago
Agreed, I remain aghast at the proposal that a three year old with potentially three starts could be declared a "champion" at Churchill Downs. It is perfectly feasible that a 3 year old will win a maiden in February and then win a 100 point derby prep in April and then win the derby. I simply have no clue. 50 years of following this sport and what the hell am I supposed to do with 3 da*# starts? Until Saturday, Verrazano had NEVER once passed a horse in a race...now he's passed what? One? I thought a great athlete was defined by the struggle, one race after another, months of hard work, different situations...ups and downs....success over time. Smart ran 9 Won 8. I thought he had a limited resume.
Snarky More than 1 year ago
Hey, Hate to butt in with an unbiased (no bet) opinion, but -- This race could easily have ended in a 3way dead heat. First, congrats to Verrazano and to all the cappers that were able to ferret out that $ 3,60 winner. After V stole 2 lengths out of the gate, he couldn't have had an easier trip. He idled, (needed a breather?), then was weaving, (staggering?) near the finish. Vyjacks' team lost a calculated gamble by putting him so close to the pace they hurt his late kick. He did run up to V late and looked as if he might pass but tired instead. N.I. though hurt by the slow pace, was probably helped at the very end when it looked as though maybe both V and Vyjack were tiring. Another way to look at it - if V doesn't grab the 2 lengths at the gate, his owners pick up the third place purse and the Aqu stoopers get to turn over a large bunch of ungood win tix. The good news for Verrazano bettors, they will get much higher odds in the KDerby. The bad news, probably no movie in Vs' future.
Mark More than 1 year ago
Congrats on having zero clue
Tom Mallios More than 1 year ago
why is it that to support or tout your favorite horse,one must trash the competition.why can't there be more than 1 good or very good horse.i do not believe the terminology "preps".these were G1 races that carried a 1 million dollar purse.i am sure the connections of verrazano will gladly forfeit the 600k winners share,after all it was a derby prep not a horse race.yes it is fun picking the winner of the derby,can also be financially rewarding.but please when chirping your horse ,do not trash all the others.i am sure last year before the derby,all of you experts out there loved i'll have another.after all so many of you loved him,that while you were praising him in these blogs.somehow,you forgot to go to the betting windows and he paid over $40.a bit of advice.do not make the same mistake this year.if you do love a live long priced horse.assuming you have valid reasons.keep it to yourself.why let everybody else in on it.remember,the fewer the people that bet on the horse .the better the price you will get.or is it more important for our egos that we selected the winner.the ball is in your court
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
I agree with you that the bad-mouthing has run amuck. But believe me, I'll Have Another was not well supported by the posters here before the KY Derby. Those of us that supported him pre-KY Derby were roundly bad-mouthed and disrespected by these posters, as was the horse. IHA gained a lot of new fans after the Derby in this site, but the majority still trashed him, mostly because of the East Coast/West Coast thing and the muckraking by some people. IHA never, ever deserved all the criticism that was thrown his way. He deserved much more respect.
Tom Mallios More than 1 year ago
joy iam so glad to hear you had him at the windows.i was being sarcastic with these geniuses.they have such strong opinions.can't wait to trash a horse or horses to make their choice look good.again congrats on the cash and hopefully many more to come
jay More than 1 year ago
With a good ryd and a little luc, the Derby winner will be coming from the Blue Grass Stakes.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
If the dirt course at Churchill should sprout turf shoots anytime soon, then perhaps this turf horse may have a slight chance. Coming out of the wrong barn bud.
Bob Welde More than 1 year ago
any horse that comes out of the Blue Grass Stakes won't finish any higher than 10th n The Derby
BigAfan More than 1 year ago
All also rans
Greg Jensik More than 1 year ago
JV will be on which horse?
Mark More than 1 year ago
Hopefully he is able to ride ....
JHart More than 1 year ago
I believe he'll be healthy enough to ride by the derby. At least I hope he is. And I think he'll stick with Pletcher's horse if he pulled up okay after the Wood. Orb or Verrazano is pretty much a coin toss at this point, since neither is head and shoulders above the other. That's why I predict he'll stay with Pletcher.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
The one he feels has the best chance.
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
The question is today, who is going to want JV to ride as he is nurseing a coulpe of broken bones. Lets ask what barry Irwin would do at this time ...
Bob Welde More than 1 year ago
probably a Pletcher horse
Rob Beaudoin More than 1 year ago
This is Gemologist all over again, same track record, same running style, same quirky action id deep stretch, This horse will be one of the very first horses I toss to go along with anybody who was in that Terrible Santa Anita Derby. Normandy Invasion will be 12/1 or more and with a decent pace to run @ and if he can break like he did today will be getting his picture taken in 4weeks.
Rob Beaudoin More than 1 year ago
Now that I've read everybodys comments it leads me to believe maybe I won't get 12/1. Feel quite nervous about the fact that most people like this horse. Hope its just because it's the most recent race in there minds. Just hope none of the horses (Orb, revolutionary, verrezano have any mishaps because I have trouble taking anybody in the Derby @ 8/1 or less.
akhiym james More than 1 year ago
If you feel Verrazano is just like Gemologist then Normandy Invasion is just like Alpha plus he hast even won a stakes race period. Normandy won't even hit the board. Verrazano had better competition than Gemologist but I don't think he is the Derby winner but will be in the mix. He has run fast going further and has showed he isn't one deminsional.
Rob Beaudoin More than 1 year ago
Alpha is a terrible comparision, he was a one paced nag who somehow managed to win a Grade 1. Verezanno is def one dimensional and before this race hadnt beat anybody. Pletchers 3yo often hit the wall right about this time of yr. Be careful, hope the 7/2 works for u.
Jake Football More than 1 year ago
What a great year to make money in the 2013 Ky Derby ! There will not be a Mine that Bird winning but there are 7-8 legitimate contenders to finish 1-2 in the Derby and for my money over the years, the best bet is the exacta ! This year's exacta will pay between $100- $250 and even boxing the ones I believe can run 1-2 will yield a better profit than any other investment in today's economy.
michael stapler More than 1 year ago
The winner will pay $40....Toooooooooooo Muuuuuuuuch Speeeeeeeeeeed. They all die turning for home.
Jake Football More than 1 year ago
Could be as i have double digit potential horses figured into that equation of 7-8 contenders but that still could lead to only a $100-$250 dollar exacta as if you look at recent history save for the fluke years of Giacomo and Mine that Bird, the exactas do not pay much more than $250. Still , I consider it the best value than any other gimmicks as they are just too difficult and pricey to put together. A few years ago I loved Musket Man to outrun his pedigree and thought he had to be second or third and I took the chance on wheeling him in those spots and was rewarded handsomely but I just do not have the confidence this year that one horse is a cinch to be second or third though Vyjack is intriguing for me but I just can't pull the trigger with him due to Rudy's proven medication violations.
Tony Fortunelli More than 1 year ago
Verrazano proved to be an accomplished young race horse. He did everything asked of him without the stick being used. The last 3/8 of a mile was about 36 seconds, very decent for a mile and an eighth. Verrazano staying healthy will make the KD very interesting. His style of racing reminds of Spectacular Bid, long purposeful strides and he has a love of winning. I think he will improve in the KD if he gets a similar ride and no holdups and will carry his speed over the CD's heavy strip as well as any of his contemporaries. It would be great if CD would make their track a bit lighter since most of the 3 year olds are used to lighter dirt or synthetics. It would make for a more realistic race, and yes, maybe more form supporting, but don't we want to see a horse that wins the KD go on to do great things in racing, instead of being just a one horse wonder who few will remember except those few who bet this unmemorable horse.. I would like to see a champion emerge that can carry his way through the summer and fall and be recognized as truly a great thoroughbred, trained by an outstanding trainer. The two go hand in hand
Hail No More than 1 year ago
"His style of racing reminds of Spectacular Bid, long purposeful strides and he has a love of winning." Whoa back, there, Tony, that's a bold statement comparing a good horse to a great horse, like the Bid..
michael stapler More than 1 year ago
Watch the race. He got whacked. If you are going to write stupid things, at least get the only fact you used, right. He got hit.