Trainer Todd Pletcher has won two of the last three runnings of the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Saturday will saddle morning line favorite Verrazano in the $1 million, 1 1/8-mile stakes.
Co-owned by Let's Go Stable, Verrazano is undefeated in three lifetime starts and is coming off a dominating victory in last month's Tampa Bay Derby. Breaking from post 8, the 4-5 early favorite in the 10-horse field will be again ridden by John Velazquez.
"He's been a rare horse who's been able to go from a maiden on Jan. 1 to the (Kentucky) Derby favorite on the first of April, which you don't see very often," said Pletcher of Verrazano. "He's been able to handle everything we've thrown at him so far and now we have another step to go. We're optimistic as he continues to develop he'll be able to continue to handle his assignments."
Pletcher won last year's Wood with Gemologist two years after claiming the race with Eskendereya.
"Eskendereya's performance in the Wood was extremely impressive, as was Gemologist last year, when Alpha headed him, so we're hoping for more of the same," said Pletcher. "Anytime you have a favorite for a race like the Wood Memorial, you're hoping everything goes well. Having currently the early favorite for the Derby is obviously on your mind, but you have to stay focused on doing what you would normally do for horses pointing to races and not get caught up in the big picture too much."
Verrazano likes to be on the lead as he was in the Tampa Bay Derby. In each of his three starts the colt has shown more speed each time out.
Vyjack, the 4-1 second choice, exhibited the ability to come from off the pace in winning last month's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Perfect in four starts, all at Aqueduct, the gelding is trained by Rudy Rodriguez for Pick Six Racing.
"Earlier, maybe we weren't training him the right way," said Gustavo Rodriguez, assistant trainer. "Now, we train him differently and got him to relax. We changed the training. We put him behind horses, and it seems like everything is good with him. We think the horse is getting better as time goes by. When we work him, we like to put him in company because sometimes he doesn't pay attention. When we put him in company, he focuses."
Joel Rosario rides Vyjack for the second straight race and will break from post 5. Rosario won last week's $10 million Dubai World Cup with Animal Kingdom.
The 5-1 third pick is Normandy Invasion coming off a fifth in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 23.
"He came out of the race in good shape," said trainer Chad Brown. "He probably needed that race for the last bit of fitness after the freshening. He's very fit right now, so I expect him to move forward off the race. We're confident he likes the track, it takes away one element of guesswork."
Owned by Fox Hill Farm, Normandy Invasion was second in last year's Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct where he also broke his maiden three weeks earlier.
Getting the mount for the first time will be Javier Castellano from post 2. Castellano won last week's Louisiana Derby aboard Revolutionary.
From the rail out here is the field for the 89th Wood Memorial: Chrisandthecapper, Jose Lezcano, 30-1; Normandy Invasion, Javier Castellano, 5-1; Quinzieme Monarque, Irad Ortiz Jr., 30-1; Elnaawi, Eddie Castro, 12-1; Vyjack, Joel Rosario, 4-1; Mr Palmer, Junior Alvarado, 12-1; Always in a Tiz, Calvin Borel, 15-1; Verrazano, John Velazquez, 4-5; Go Get the Basil, Jose Ortiz, 30-1 and Freedom Child, Elvis Trujillo, 30-1.
The Wood has an approximate post-time of 6:28 p.m. (ET) and will be telecast by NBC Sports Network.