Verrazano in the paddock prior to the Haskell
A crowd of over 36,000 gathered at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, NJ Sunday to see Let’s Go Stables’ Verrazano destroy his foes by a stunning 9 3/4-length victory. Sent off as the nearly even-money favorite, Verrazano stalked the pace while Preakness winner Oxbow got out front early with Vyjack in second through the opening quarter. Vyjack faded quickly as the Todd Pletcher trainee moved to second after a half-mile and kept up through six furlongs with guidance from John Velazquez. Oxbow gave way in the stretch as Verrazano opened up by three lengths and then would not look back, finishing the 1 1/8-mile contest in 1:50 3/5 on the fast track. Power Broker got up for second with Micromanage third. Oxbow faded to fourth.
“He made a huge statement today,” Pletcher said. “This was one of the most impressive – if not the most impressive – races by any 3-year-old this year. I would say this was his most impressive race for a horse that’s near perfect minus the sloppy race in the Kentucky Derby.
“You couldn’t have drawn it up any better,” Pletcher said. “Power Broker came to his hip and Johnny (Velazquez) asked him to go and he immediately took over the race.”
Verrazano and Johnny V. in the Winner’s Circle
This win marked the second time Pletcher and Velazquez had teamed up to win New Jersey’s most celebrated race, the first time on Bluegrass Cat back in 2006. Pletcher also won the Haskell the following year with Any Given Saturday. For Verrazano, it was his second Grade 1-win, as he won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 6. After a dissapointing 14th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1), he bounced back to take the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes also at Monmouth in his last start. With earnings now of $1,551,300, Verrazano is 7-6-0-0.
“We had the perfect trip,” Velazquez said. “He was incredible today. When I asked him, he was right there. He was in the perfect spot and Gary Stevens’ horse (Oxbow) was moving easily, so I moved him 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.”
“The plan all along was to run in the Haskell, and if he showed he could handle distances of a mile and an eighth plus, the Travers would be a logical next spot,” Pletcher said. “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.”
Young fans having fun at the Haskell
Verrazano will likely face Belmont Stakes winner and fellow Pletcher-trained Palace Malice (who just won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Saturday) in the August 24 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, along with Kentucky Derby-winner Orb among others.
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens appeared very concerned about the health of the Preakness winner after the fourth-place effort. According to David Grening of the Daily Racing Form and The Paulick Report, Oxbow may have suffered a soft tissue injury, but that “radiograph’s of the colt’s ankle came back clean.”
“I thought I was in a good position early, but when I called on him I just didn’t have the same horse underneath me that’s been there in his previous races,” Stevens said of Oxbow. “It was very disappointing.”
From that, who knows if Oxbow will be up for the challenge in the “Mid-Summer Derby” at Saratoga in late August, or if he is the same horse now that won the Preakness Stakes back in May. Regardless, the Travers is shaping up to be a hell of a race. Giddy up.