HASKELL INVITATIONAL | PURSE: $1 MILLION | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
Verrazano led the 3-year-old ranks this spring, and after his thorough demolishing of a good field in the $1 million William Hill Haskell Invitational July 28 at Monmouth Park, it looks like he's right back on top.
With John Velazquez aboard, 11-10 choice Verrazano challenged Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow at the three-eighths pole and took command into the stretch, drawing off to a record-setting 9 ¾-length victory in a time of 1:50.68 for 1 ⅛ miles on a fast track.
Todd Pletcher trains Verrazano, a son of More than Ready , for Let's Go Stable and Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith. It was the third Haskell win for the multiple Eclipse-Award winning conditioner, and his first since he won Monmouth's signature race back-to-back in 2006 and 2007 with Bluegrass Cat and Any Given Saturday .
Power Broker, who tried in vain to stay with the winner coming off the far turn, was a distant second, with the Pletcher-trained Micromanage third. Pacesetter Oxbow settled for fourth and was walked off the track when Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens dismounted because he did not like the way the colt was jogging after the race.
Verrazano debuted Jan. 1 with the first of four consecutive victories, including wins in the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial, before fading to 14th in the Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher skipped the rest of the Triple Crown series after a rough Derby trip, bringing the strapping bay colt back in Monmouth's Pegasus Stakes, which he won by 9 ¼ lengths June 16.
Bettors made Verrazano the heavy favorite in the field of seven, with Oxbow, coming off a game runner-up effort to Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes, the second pick at 3-1 odds. Grade I winner Power Broker, attempting to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert a fourth consecutive Haskell victory, was 5-1.
Oxbow took the early lead for Stevens as Verrazano, bobbling slightly out of the gate from his far outside post, raced third. By the time they reached the clubhouse turn, Verrazano had advanced into second while Oxbow forged a one-length advantage. Stevens got away with comfortable early fractions of :23.90 and :48.22 as Verrazano continued to stalk along with Power Broker and Vyjack. By the time they reached six furlongs in 1:12.43, Verrazano was challenging Oxbow. After giving up the lead on the turn, Oxbow had little response.
"I thought I was in a good position early, but when I called on him he just didn't have the same horse underneath me that he's had in his previous races," Stevens said of Oxbow. "It was very disappointing."
Power Broker, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, made a charge at the new leader. But he could not catch Verrazano, who was dazzling as he lengthened stride under urging through the homestretch for Velazquez. after reaching the eight pole three lengths in front, the jockey took a couple of glances over his shoulder to make sure there were no threats as Verrazano drew off.
"We had the perfect trip," Velazquez said. "He was incredible today. When I asked him he was right there. He was in a perfect spot and [Oxbow] was moving easily so I moved [Verrazano] out to the middle of the track so no one could keep me pinned in. It looked like [Oxbow] was going a little slow on the lead so I went up to put a little pressure on him. Power Broker moved at us a little and my horse just took off. He was real impressive."
Baffert, who has won a record six Haskell renewals, was wavering on whether to run Powr Broker but was satisfied with second.
"I don't know if he ever saw Verrazano go by," Baffert said. "We were a little overmatched today. [Power Broker] is still a very immature horse; he got a lot out of the race. We would have liked to have won, but nobody was going to beat Verrazano."
Micromanage, with Joe Bravo aboard, ran on well through the stretch on the outside to grab the show spot by a nose over Oxbow.
Bred in Kentucky by Emory A. Hamilton, Verrazano is out of the Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock. He was purchased by Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan, brothers-in-law and managing partners of Let's Go Stable, for $250,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in September 2011 when consigned by Middlebrook Farm, agent. After the colt's second race, the Coolmore group purchased an interest in the horse.
"This is just amazing," said Sullivan. "This is my home track and it all worked to plan. This is something we'll cherish for long, long time."
Verrazano is a half brother to 2012 Risen Star Stakes winner El Padrino.
"Power Broker came to his hip and Johnny asked him to go and he immediately took over the race," Pletcher noted. "He'll ship to Saratoga tomorrow morning. The plan all along was to run in the Haskell and if he showed he could handle distances of 1 ⅛ miles plus, the Travers would be a logical next spot.
"The way he finished today over a track that's been deep and demanding all week with his ears pricked at the wire showed he handled it pretty well. Those of us who've been around this horse have always had a lot of confidence in him and anyone who knows him isn't really surprised by what they see."
The victory was the sixth in seven tries for Verrazano, who bumped his earnings to $1,551,300 with the Haskell winning share of $600,000.
Verrazano paid $4.20, $3.20, and $2.0, topping a $22 exacta with Gary and Mary West's Power Broker, who returned $4.80 and $3.60. Repole Stable's Micromanage, impressive Long Branch Stakes winner at Monmouth July 7, paid $4 to show. Oxbow was followed by Pick of the Litter, Vyjack, and Golden Soul, the Kentucky Derby runner-up who trailed throughout.