Verrazano lived up to his billing as a top Triple Crown contender with a solid three-length score over eight other sophomores in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) March 9 at Tampa Bay Downs (VIDEO).
The 3-year-old son of More Than Ready picked up 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and remained undefeated in three starts for Let's Go Stable, Michael B. Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith.
Verrazano, trained by Todd Pletcher, was the 2-5 heavy favorite despite having never raced at the 1 1/16-mile distance before, which he concluded in a final time of 1:43.96 while making his stakes debut. He answered every question asked of him in spite of bobbling slightly at the start under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who won four races at Tampa Bay on the day.
"It was a good performance," Pletcher said. "He is a lot like his sire; he has a great disposition and a great mind. You always worry about the variables—his first time shipping to a new place, the first time around two turns, the first time in a stakes. So we had a lot of variables he hadn't seen before and he seemed to handle them real well."
"We were a little unsure of what the pace scenario would be," Pletcher said. "You had horses with speed coming out of other races and ideally we wanted to stalk someone, but he is so naturally fast for a big horse, there wasn't enough pace to get behind too many horses. He stumbled a little bit leaving the gate, but he seemed to recover quickly and put himself in a good spot. Once John got him to the middle of the track and got him to settle, it looked like he was very relaxed throughout."
Striking the stretch with a two-length lead, Verrazano easily coasted to the victory through a mile in 1:37.56 despite a late charge on the outside from 32-1 shot Java's War. Falling Sky held for third, 7 1/4 lengths behind the winner.
Pletcher did not confirm whether the colt's next start would come in the March 30 Florida Derby (gr. I), April 6 Wood Memorial (gr. I), or April 13 Arkansas Derby (gr. I).
"The way he has finished his mile and mile and a sixteenth races, I don't see another sixteenth being much of an issue," the trainer said. "To come here and get 50 Kentucky Derby points, everyone can take a deep breath and see what happens next. He has had some freakinshly good performances and some of the things he does in the morning training, we don't see too often."
Verrazano paid $2.80, $2.60, and $2.10 while Java's War returned $14.60 and $8 and Falling Sky brought $4.60. Completing the order of finish were Dynamic Sky, Eton Blue, Park City, Honorable Dillon , Offlee Fast, and Purple Egg.
"He ran super, no complaints," trainer Ken McPeek said of Java's War, who was making his first start since a sixth in the Nov. 24 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs. "I'm very pleased coming off a long layoff. Todd's horse is a freak."