It was not the dominating performance shown in his earlier starts, but Verrazano remained undefeated with a three- quarter length victory over the late closing Normandy Invasion in the Wood Memorial.
The bay colt improved to four wins in four lifetime starts, including a pair of graded stakes, and is expected to be the betting favorite in next month's Kentucky Derby.
Jockey John Velazquez was extremely calm on Verrazano throughout the early portion of the race as he repeatedly looked behind to see where the competition was. When he was a length clear of the wall of horses vying for third, he let Verrazano loose through a third quarter of 23 3/5.
I doubt Velazquez expected the pacesetter (and 77-1 shot) Chrisandthecapper to come back on the inside and press his mount but that is exactly what happened. Meanwhile, Vyjack was gaining ground in third as the field reached the top of the stretch.
Verrazano maintained his one-length advantage into the stretch but Velazquez had to do something he never did before with the Todd Pletcher colt and that was go to the whip.
Verrazano responded by putting away Vyjack inside the final furlong and holding off the late charge of Normandy Invasion at the wire.
The unbeaten star ran his final three-eighths of a mile in a very respectable 36 3/5. However, that should come as no surprise since the first six furlongs came up in 1:13 3/5.
There are two ways to look at Verrazano's victory. On the positive side, he was tested by quality 3-year-olds for the first time in his career and he came away unscathed. On the negative side, it was his weakest race to date, winning by less than a length in the slow time of 1:50 1/5. Close Hatches, a 3-year-old filly making her stakes debut, won the Gazelle Stakes three races earlier in 1:50 2/5 seconds.
Other points to keep in mind.
First, Verrazano was very relaxed early in the race. This bodes well for the Kentucky Derby since it seems he doesn't have to run a 23 and change first quarter to be effective. If the early pace in the Derby is quick, Verrazano could sit in the fifth or sixth spot a few lengths behind the lead without any fear whatsoever of not having enough left down the long Churchill Downs stretch.
Second, Verrazano appears to be a very tractable colt, one that could easily make more than one move in a race. That is crucial considering he will be going 1 1/4 miles for the first time.
Third, he ran the final five furlongs in 1:00 1/5. If he doesn't vie for the early lead at Churchill Downs, it is doubtful any other 3-year-old will finish any faster, which means a probable visit to the winner's circle.
Normandy Invasion ran back to his 2-year-old form with a second-place finish. Even though he is by Tapit, he should relish the 1 1/4-mile distance and improve off this outing. Remember, the last six Kentucky Derby winners had just two starts at three, and this was Normandy Invasion's second start since the Remsen.
Vyjack was game in defeat losing only by a length despite getting passed by Normandy Invasion for second. Still, the only way he has a chance to win on the first Saturday in May is if he lags behind the majority of the field through the first half-mile just as he did in the Gotham Stakes.
GOLDENCENTS IS GOLDEN
It seems almost everyone gave up on Goldencents after the disappointing fourth- place finish in the San Felipe. Everyone except Doug O'Neill and the rest of Goldencents' connections.
Jockey Kevin Krigger gave the son of Into Mischief an incredible ride, and the Sham and Delta Jackpot winner added the Santa Anita Derby to his mantle of graded stakes victories.
Even with the scratch of the injured Hear the Ghost, the crowd did not expect a Goldencents resurgence as he was the fifth choice in the field of eight. Heading into the stretch it appeared the public was right as the even-money favorite Flashback had caught up with the two pacesetters - Super Ninety Nine and Goldencents.
But Goldencents had something left in the tank and repulsed the challenge of Flashback to win by a length and a quarter. It was another 8 1/2 lengths back to Super Ninety Nine in third.
This race was almost the exact opposite of the Wood Memorial. Super Ninety Nine busted out early fractions of 22 3/5, 46 2/5, and 1:10 2/5. The half-mile and three-quarter times were about three seconds faster than the race in New York.
Even though Goldencents won impressively going the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 3/5, he ran his final three-eighths in 38 1/5 seconds and his final five-eighths in 1:02 1/5. For a speed horse such as Goldencents, similar numbers in Kentucky would equate to an off-the-board finish.
Additionally, the horse he beat, Flashback, has now run back-to-back disappointing races as the even-money favorite. It is obvious he is not the super horse Bob Baffert and everyone thought he was going to be prior to his first outing last December.
THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Verrazano - Remains on top after victory in Wood.
2) Orb - Will Shug need to find a new rider for Orb?
3) Revolutionary - Pletcher has two of the top three.
4) Normandy Invasion - Did what was needed in Wood.
5) Govenor Charlie - Sire has Mr. Prospector bloodlines.
6) War Academy - Might be Baffert's best hope for a win.
7) Uncaptured - Must not bounce off strong 2nd in Spiral.
8) Flashback - Derby distance still a major question mark.
9) Vyjack - Same could be said for Vyjack.
10) Goldencents - Back in Dirty Dozen after SA Derby win.
10) Itsmyluckyday - Must bounce back from loss in FL Derby.
11) Palace Malice - Needs a win or 2nd in Blue Grass.
12) Black Onyx - Spiral winner could surprise in Churchill.