Verrazano crossed his final bridge on the road to the Kentucky Derby with a narrow victory in the $1 million Wood Memorial at New York that likely sends the colt to Churchill Downs as the horse to beat on the first Saturday in May.
Sweeping into the lead around the far turn on Saturday, Verrazano held off the challenges of Vyjack and Normandy Invasion and improved to 4-0. The 3-year-old trained by Todd Pletcher won by three-quarters of a length over Normandy Invasion, who nipped Vyjack for second and likely punched his ticket to the Derby.
Ridden by John Velazquez, 4-5 favorite Verrazano raced comfortably behind early pacesetter Chrisandthecapper before taking charge on the turn.
In the stretch, Verrazano first turned back Vyjack’s bid, then held off Normandy Invasion to give Pletcher an unbeaten horse for the Derby for the second year in a row.
Gemologist won the Wood to remain unbeaten last year, then finished 16th in the Derby.
Verrazano, who won his first three races by a combined 27 lengths, covered the 1⅛⅛ miles in 1:50.27 in the toughest race of his brief but so far brilliant career. The Wood is a final prep before the Derby May 4, and Pletcher got exactly what he wanted out of his talented colt, a son of More Than Ready.
Verrazano returned $3.60, $2.70, and $2.20. Normandy Invasion, ridden by Javier Castellano, paid $3.60 and $2.60, and Vyjack, the second favorite at 3-1, returned $2.50 to show.
Mr Palmer was fourth, followed by Elnaawi, Chrisandthecapper, Quinzieme Monarque, Go Get the Basil, Always in a Tiz, and Freedom Child, who broke late out of the gate and lost any chance of winning.
Santa Anita Derby — At Arcadia, Calif., Goldencents won the $750,000 race over even-money favorite Flashback, with Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino among the colt’s co-owners.
Ridden by Kevin Krigger, Goldencents ran 1⅛ miles in 1:48.76. He paid $15, $5.40, and $3.40 at 6-1 odds. Flashback returned $3 and $2.20. Super Ninety Nine, who took the early lead, paid $3.40 to show. Bob Baffert trains both horses.
Ashland Stakes — Emollient shook off a week’s rest to dominate the $500,000 Grade I feature at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
Ridden by Mike Smith, the 3-year-old filly broke fast from the far 13th post and didn’t let up after setting the pace near the rail. The Kentucky bred ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.49 and returned $14.40, $8.40, and 5.80.
Tuttipaesi was 9 lengths back and paid $5.80 and $4.40, and Kitten’s Point paid $5.20 to show.