Odds-on favorite Verrazano held off a late charging Normandy Invasion to capture Saturday's $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The undefeated 3-year-old was making his final start before this year's Kentucky Derby.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Verrazano went off as the 4-5 favorite in the 10- horse field for the 1 1/8-mile stakes. Local winner Vyjack was the 3-1 second choice and Normandy Invasion was the 7-2 third pick.
Verrazano, ridden by John Velazquez, broke first from the gate and was quickly joined by 77-1 longshot Chrisandthecapper. The favorite let the longshot set the pace up the backstretch with Vyjack and jockey Joel Rosario sitting a couple lengths back.
On the far turn, Verrazano moved to the lead from the outside while Chrisandthecapper remained second along the rail. Vyjack was third as Normandy Invasion gained ground with rider Javier Castellano.
Velazquez had his mount on the lead entering the stretch with Vyjack second and Normandy Invasion in third. Down the stretch, Verrazano battled with Vyjack as Normandy Invasion rallied from the outside.
Nearing the wire, the favorite had a clear lead over Vyjack, but Normandy Invasion came rushing by the second pick. Verrazano had enough left and was able to hold off the late running Normandy Invasion to win by three-quarters of a length. Vyjack held on for third with Mr Palmer fourth.
Completing the order of finish were Elnaawi, Chrisandthecapper, Quinzieme Monarque, Go Get the Basil, Always in a Tiz and Freedom Child.
The time on a fast track was 1:50.27 after a slow first half-mile.
"Always felt he was going to get there," said Pletcher. "We were here to win, that was the most important thing. The horse keeps taking everything we throw at him ... he's come a long way in a short period of time."
Part of the new Kentucky Derby points system, the victory gave Verrazano 100 points. The colt has 150 points, more than enough to gain entry into the Run for the Roses on May 4.
Verrazano, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, gave his trainer his third Wood Memorial win. Pletcher won last year with Gemologist two years after claiming the race with Eskendereya. Verrazano can become the first Wood champ since Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 to win the Kentucky Derby.
Co-owned by Let's Go Stable, Verrazano is perfect in four starts, all this year. No horse has won the Kentucky Derby without a 2-year-old race since Apollo in 1882. With the $600,000 from the Wood the colt has earnings of $861,300.
Verrazano returned $3.60, $2.70 and $2.20. Normandy Invasion paid $3.60 and $2.60, and Vyjack paid $2.50 to show.