Saturday's Derby Prep Recaps

Saturday's Derby Prep Recaps

Verrazano digs down, stays unbeaten in Wood

For the first time in his brief career, Verrazano had to work to grind out a victory, but the 4-5 favorite found plenty to remain perfect in Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The Todd Pletcher pupil turned back a bid from the hitherto unbeaten Vyjack, then held off the late-running Normandy Invasion, and will now bring a four-for-four mark into the Kentucky Derby.

Jockey John Velazquez will now have a decision to make, for he is also the regular rider of Florida Derby hero Orb.

Verrazano had propelled himself into early favoritism for the Kentucky Derby with three cakewalks in Florida. A 7 3/4-length debut winner at Gulfstream Park on New Year's Day, he trounced allowance rivals by 16 1/4 lengths at the same track on February 2. The son of More Than Ready stretched out to two turns, and disposed of stakes company, in the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby, but Saturday's opposition wasn't so easily brushed aside.

Owned by Let's Go Stable in partnership with the Coolmore principals of Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith, who bought into the colt in February, Verrazano caught a flyer out of post 8 and was already on top. But Velazquez gathered him back and conceded the lead to Chrisandthecapper, who capitalized on his rail draw to set the pace.

Meanwhile, Freedom Child was badly compromised at the start. When the gate sprang open, the assistant starter was still holding Freedom Child, who was thus unable to break with the field. He soon shook loose from the starter's grasp, but came out at an awkward angle and found himself a few lengths behind his rivals.

Up front, Chrisandthecapper got away with dawdling splits of :24 4/5 and :49 3/5. Verrazano was relaxed in second down the backstretch, and made a quick move entering the far turn to take over through six furlongs in 1:13 3/5. But he didn't open up, and that allowed Chrisandthecapper to come again on the inside. Velazquez pushed Verrazano on, and he summarily put the longshot away.

But by that point, Jerome and Gotham winner Vyjack was rallying into contention. Verrazano again responded to Velazquez's urging and repelled the challenge. Normandy Invasion arrived on the scene in deep stretch, but a fraction too late to present a dire threat to the winner.

Verrazano, who had three-quarters of a length to spare over Normandy Invasion at the wire, completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:50 1/5. He earned 100 points toward the Kentucky Derby, bringing his total up to 150.

"Every race he's learning," Velazquez said. "He's still coming along, and we learn more about him. He does things very easily. This is his last prep before going to the Derby, so hopefully he'll learn a lot from this one.

"He was already going, and (Vyjack) came to him, and I looked at him. I never hit (Verrazano). I was like, he's running good enough that I don't have to hit him.

"There was nobody on the outside, and by the wire I looked and the other horse (Normandy Invasion) came, and I never even saw that horse," the Hall of Fame rider admitted. "I thought Vyjack was the only one fighting me.

"So I went to hand-ride him and show him the whip and tried to keep his attention because I know he kind of waits, and he's looking at the infield, and I just kind of got his attention. And all of a sudden (Normandy Invasion) got (close) at the wire and I never saw him.

"I didn't hit (Verrazano). I didn't want to overdo things. He was doing enough to beat the other horse, anyway."

"He made kind of a quick move on the turn," Pletcher said, "and then idled a little bit, and made another quick move and idled a bit, which he has a tendency to do, but a very good effort. This race was not only a building block but a very significant race in its own right. I thought he handled everything really well. He's been very professional. He shipped into Tampa the day of the race, shipped in here only a few days ago and came over from Belmont just a few hours ago. Nothing seems to faze him.

"(The pace today) was pretty slow," the trainer noted. "I think he's shown that he's kind, he'll sit behind soft fractions, if necessary. It's nice to see that he'll do that. It's a demanding surface, and I think with races at Tampa and here under his belt, hopefully that has him in a good spot.

"I think he's still learning," Pletcher added. "He has a tendency to idle a little bit and wait on company down the lane. I thought that today he did that a little bit.
"It was the first time he had horses real close to him at the finish of a race, so hopefully every step we make is a learning experience for him and he learns to polish off these races off a little better."

Normandy Invasion took home 40 points, which along with the four he tallied when runner-up in last fall's Remsen, will almost certainly be enough to make the Derby field.

"I'm very proud of the horse," jockey Javier Castellano said of Normandy Invasion. "He did an amazing run. This is the first time I rode him, and he made a huge run. One more jump, and I could have won the race. His gallop-out was amazing; I had trouble pulling him up. That's a great feeling when you're looking at the big picture and the Kentucky Derby."

Vyjack finished another neck behind Normandy Invasion, and his 20-point haul for third boosts his total to 70 points.

Mr. Palmer got up for fourth. Next came Elnaawi, Chrisandthecapper, Quinzieme Monarque, Go Get the Basil and Always in a Tiz. Freedom Child recovered from his troubled start and actually worked his way into a good position nearing the final turn before giving way and trailing home last. After a stewards' inquiry, Freedom Child was officially declared a non-starter because of his disadvantage at the beginning.

Verrazano, who returned $3.60, $2.70 and $2.20, has now bankrolled $861,300.

A $250,000 Keeneland September yearling, Verrazano was bred in Kentucky by Emory Hamilton. He was produced by the Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock, also the dam of Grade 2 victor El Padrino.

Verrazano's second dam was Grade 1 winner Chic Shirine, whose other offspring include Grade 2 winners Waldoboro and Tara Roma. Other descendants of Chic Shirine include Grade 1 winner Serra Lake, Grade 2 winners Hungry Island and Al Khali, and Grade 3 winners Cappuchino, Somali Lemonade and Soaring Empire.

Verrazano's third dam was Grade 1 queen Too Chic, who reared 1991 champion older mare Queena. The latter was the dam of Grade 1 victor Brahms and Grade 3 vixen La Reina.

Further back in this female line is Verrazano's fifth dam, *Monade, who captured the Epsom Oaks and was a champion in England and France.
Pletcher hopes that Verrazano will transfer his considerable game to Churchill Downs.

"There's some more preps to go, but I would say right now he's the legitimate (Kentucky Derby) favorite," Pletcher said. "The key now is to go to Churchill and get over that track well. Churchill can be a very peculiar surface and a lot of horses don't handle it. We'll probably go on (April 14).

"He didn't show me anything to say he won't (handle the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Derby). He's gone a mile, mile and a sixteenth, a mile and an eighth now and handled each one. He's got to go to Churchill and he's got to train well over that surface. If it's the surface we saw at the Breeders' Cup a couple of years ago, there might be no one that handles it. That's the real key. We've got a new track superintendent there; hopefully we get a good honest surface there."
Pletcher also commented on the rider situation.

"We'll see. I guess we're going to have to pin him (Velazquez) down here at some point," Pletcher said. "We've got a pretty long history and a lot of success together over the years, and I think it would be pretty hard to take off an undefeated horse, but we'll see what he says. I'm probably a little more flexible than the owners (in terms of when Velazquez makes a decision), but we'll need a decision here fairly soon."
Velazquez is keeping options open.

"I don't know -- that will come later on," the rider said. "We will see how the horses come back. We all know I had three years back-to-back with the favorite leading to the Derby and (none) of the three horses made it. So I hope the people give me the opportunity to watch the horses work, and then we'll make a decision later on. I'd be very stupid if I made a decision right now."

Goldencents rebounds to win Santa Anita Derby

After dueling and weakening to fourth in the March 9 San Felipe, Goldencents was overlooked entering Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. But that proved to be a mistake as the three-year-old colt displayed the willingness to relax during the early stages, made his move to the lead entering the stretch drive and comfortably held the favored Flashback safe to the wire.

The 1 1/4-length victory guarantees Goldencents a spot in the Kentucky Derby field as he increased his point total to 129 in the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring system. He completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48 3/5.

Owned in partnership by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, who advanced to Monday's national championship game when defeating Wichita St. on Saturday, Goldencents provided trainer Doug O'Neill with his second straight Santa Anita Derby following last year's success with I'll Have Another, who went on to post a 19-1 upset at Churchill Downs.

The bay son of Into Mischief was ridden by Kevin Krigger, who is now scheduled to make his Kentucky Derby debut. O'Neill employed a similar strategy last year, utilizing the services of the relatively unknown Mario Gutierrez aboard I'll Have Another.

"(Give) credit to Kevin (Krigger). He didn't panic early when the pace was a little bit hot the first quarter, and was able to just chill and save horse," O'Neill said. "Credit to Kevin and the horse. They're a great team."

Super Ninety Nine flashed speed at the break, showing the way into the first turn on a short lead as Krigger took a keen hold on Goldencents in second. The opening quarter-mile went in a quick :22 3/5, but Super Ninety Nine was able to slow it down entering the backstretch, reaching the half-mile mark in :46 2/5 with a half-length advantage, and continued to lead by the same margin as he reached the three-quarters mark in 1:10 2/5.

Unlike previous starts, Goldencents was not headstrong and waited for his cue to pounce. Flashback, who finished second in the San Felipe after battling on the lead with Goldencents, was a couple of lengths back stalking the early pace and advanced into contention on the far turn, one-length behind Goldencents with three furlongs remaining.

Goldencents stormed into the lead as Super Ninety Nine gave way at the top of the stretch and the stage appeared set for a two-horse race to the wire. But Flashback wasn't gaining on Goldencents, who passed the mile mark in 1:35 3/5, and the winner wasn't seriously threatened in the final furlong.

"I did (think he had enough left when Flashback came to him in the stretch), but I think every trainer has a false sense of hope every time you run one, but I felt like we had a lot of horse left. This time it worked out perfect," O'Neill said.

"We were all in a good position turning for home," said Bob Baffert, trainer of Flashback. "When we got to the outside the other horse (Goldencents) just quickened on him. The winner ran a really good race. They ran pretty fast times.

"Flashback, he ran a good race. Goldencents, he's a good horse. He's going to be really tough."

O'Neill and his team had worked on getting Goldencents to relax since the San Felipe.

"I think it did (help, the change in training strategy to try and slow his works down). I think it saved some more energy for the afternoon," O'Neill explained. "I was getting caught up into he was just a fast horse. It is fun to watch a horse work (fast), but you do worry it saps some of their energy for the afternoon, so we just tried to stay away from that. Whether that has anything to do with it or not, it worked today."

Sent off the 6-1 fourth choice among eight rivals in the $750,750 Santa Anita Derby, Goldencents paid $15, $5.40 and $3.40 to his supporters.

Flashback, the overwhelming even-money choice, wound up 8 1/2 lengths clear of third. Super Ninety Nine came next and was followed by Tiz a Minister, Power Broker, Storm Fighter, Summer Exclusive and Dirty Swagg. San Felipe winner Hear the Ghost was scratched earlier in the week due to an injury.

Goldencents has now earned $1,250,000 from a 6-4-1-0 career mark. After winning his career debut at Del Mar, the colt shipped to New York and finished a commendable second to eventual two-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. His connections elected to skip the Breeders' Cup and Goldencents proceeded to record his first stakes win in the November 17 Delta Jackpot Juvenile, scoring by 1 3/4 length in the lucrative event. He opened 2013 with a 1 1/2-length victory in the January 5 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.

Bred in Kentucky by Rosecrest Farm and Karyn Pirrello, Goldencents brought $5,500 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall yearling before selling for $62,000 when going through the ring as the penultimate horse in this year's OBS June sale. He is out of the winning Banker's Gold mare Golden Works, who is herself a daughter of multiple stakes queen Body Works.

Canadian champion and 1983 Kentucky Derby winner Sunny's Halo is also part of the female family.

O'Neill was asked when Goldencents will ship to Churchill Downs.

"I don't know. We've got to huddle up. As soon as the alcohol wears off, we'll figure it all out," the trainer said.



Today’s Hot Plays