Verrazano winning the Wood Memorial Stakes.
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Verrazano winning the Wood Memorial Stakes.
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Coglianese Photos/Adam Mooshian

Derby Rematch Looms for Verrazano, 'Invasion'

Both come out of the Wood Memorial well and are being pointed to Run for the Roses.

Undefeated Wood Memorial winner (gr. I) Verrazano  and runner-up Normandy Invasion  are headed for a rematch in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 4 at Churchill Downs.

Verrazano, whose Wood triumph at Aqueduct Racetrack April 6 by three-quarters of a length ran his record to four-for-four, came out of the race "in great order," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher.

"Everything is good," McCarthy added April 7, noting that the son of More than Ready  attacked his feed tub the morning after his grittiest effort to date. It was Pletcher's third victory in the past four renewals of the Wood following Eskendereya (2010) and Gemologist  (2012).

"Looking at the race, he was waiting on horses and every time he was challenged, he answered the call," said McCarthy of Verrazano. "It was a very good prep race. He got a lot out of it without doing too much."

Meanwhile, trainer Chad Brown was greatly encouraged by the late-running effort from Normandy Invasion and said Fox Hill Farms' Tapit  colt would head to Kentucky April 14 to begin preparations for the Kentucky Derby.

Owned in partnership by Let's Go Stable, Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith, Verrazano broke his maiden on Jan. 1 at Gulfstream Park, added a 16 1/4-length optional claiming victory there Feb. 2, and annexed the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) March 9 prior to the Wood.

Verrazano more than tripled his earnings to $861,300 and gave Let's Go Stable its first grade I win in the $1 million Wood. Verrazano earned 100 points in the Derby qualifying system, and with 150 total points, shares the top spot in the standings with the Shug McGaughey-trained Orb .

Beginning with Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in 1930, 11 horses have completed the Wood-Derby double, most recently Fusaichi Pegasus  in 2000.

Normandy Invasion has 44 Derby qualifying points and ranks 12th on the leader board. So while he is not a lock to make the 20-horse Derby field, his chances are very good with just two main preps remaining on the schedule, the Toyota Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby (both gr. I) April 13.

For the first time in his four-race career, Normandy Invasion started from an inside post position in the Wood, and he responded well to a little bumping and racing in close quarters before angling outside at the top of the lane for a spirited drive.

"I think he ran great yesterday, and he came out of the race good," Brown said. "He did everything I expected him to do except win, but just short of that I thought he ran great."

In his prior two starts, the Remsen (gr. II) at Aqueduct last November and the Risen Star (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, the big colt broke tardily and appeared to lightly clip heels each time. In the Wood, he got up into the race early, behind a slow opening quarter-mile of :24.89, and saved ground without getting trapped down on the inside.

"He had drawn outside every start in his career9 or 10 (post position)and he finally drew inside and took advantage of it by saving ground," Brown said. "I thought the horse broke clean out of the gate. He was able to lay closer to a slow pace than he had in the past. It really helped him. I think he learned a lot from it, and we learned a lot from the horse. He ran as we suspected. He doesn't need to be that far away."

The question to be answered is whether Javier Castellano will keep the mount or ride Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Revolutionary  for Pletcher.

"I'd like to retain him on (Normandy Invasion), we all would," Brown said. "But it's going to be up to him and his agent, and I'm sure he's going to monitor his two Derby mounts, their health and how they came out of their races, before making a decision. We're not applying any pressure right now. We'll just see what they want to do."