For a horse that didn’t race until two months ago, 3-year-old Verrazano has been making a lot of noise on and off the track.
With victories Jan. 1 and Feb. 2 at Gulfstream Park by a combined 24 lengths, Verrazano has gone from a virtual unknown to a leading candidate for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 4.
Verrazano, from the barn of leading North American trainer Todd Pletcher, is expected to make his stakes and two-turn debuts Saturday, March 9 in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.
The mile-and-a-sixteenth Tampa Bay Derby is the centerpiece of Festival Day 33, which includes the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards.
Umbrellas will be given out with each paid admission while supplies last.
In his latest start, a one-mile allowance around one turn, Verrazano drew off under jockey John Velazquez to win by 16 ¼ lengths in 1:34.80, a performance which drew an exceptional Beyer Speed Figure of 105 after a 94 in his first start.
All signs appear headed in the right direction after the son of More Than Ready-Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway, worked five furlongs Monday in 59.21 seconds,
fastest of 38 recorded at the distance at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach.
Last month, after his allowance victory, the Let’s Go Stable of Bryan Sullivan and Kevin Scatuorchio sold an interest in Verrazano to the Coolmore entity of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Susan Magnier. Let’s Go Stable had originally purchased Verrazano for $250,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
James Scatuorchio, Kevin’s father, raced Ashford Stud stallion Scat Daddy. Ashford, near Versailles, Ky., is a satellite of Ireland-based Coolmore Stud. The elder Scatuorchio also raced More Than Ready, a multiple-graded stakes winner who finished fourth in the 2000 Kentucky Derby and won that year’s Grade I King’s Bishop at Saratoga. More Than Ready was trained by Pletcher.
Verrazano is a half-brother to Let’s Go Stable’s El Padrino, the winner of last year’s Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds and 13th in the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
In a recent National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference, Pletcher said “some baby issues” prevented Verrazano from starting before Jan. 1. Verrazano is bidding to become the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without starting as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882.
Verrazano’s development since his debut “has been pretty straightforward,” Pletcher said. “What you saw in the allowance win, I thought, was very impressive. He’s a good-sized colt that carries his weight really well. He’s very professional and he’s got that unique quality of speed and stamina to go with it.”
Friday, in a rare occurrence that happens only once or twice a meet, a different owner, trainer and jockey captured each of the 10 races. That verdict was assured when 3-year-old gelding Falsely Alarmed won the 10th race, a six-furlong maiden claiming event, for winning owners Captain Jack Racing and Anthony J. Granitz, trainer Granitz and jockey Ryan Curatolo.
Saturday’s 11-race Tampa Bay Downs card is highlighted by the 22nd renewal of the $60,000 Challenger Stakes for 4-year-olds-and-upward at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth. The morning-line favorite at 9-5 is 2012 Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective, who will be making his first start since winning the Delta Mile at Delta Downs on Nov. 17. The Challenger is the eighth race on the card.
Fernando De La Cruz will ride Prospective, who is owned by John C. Oxley and trained by Mark Casse.
Trainer Ian Wilkes, who won the 2012 Challenger with subsequent Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, has entered a two-horse entry for Lothenbach Stables, Inc., of 4-year-old gelding Nicklaus Way and 4-year-old colt Meowser. Angel Serpa rides Nicklaus Way and Ronnie Allen, Jr., rides Meowser.
The veteran Allen, who rode Fort Larned to his Challenger victory last season, will be the guest of track announcer Richard Grunder on his Morning Glory Club Show, which begins at 10 a.m. Attendees receive free coffee, donuts and grandstand passes and can watch morning workouts.
Tampa Bay Downs jockeys Jose Espinoza and Willie Martinez will be at Aqueduct in New York on Saturday to ride in graded stakes. Espinoza will ride the John Terranova II-trained West Hills Giant in the Grade III, $400,000 Gotham Stakes for 3-year-olds. Espinoza and Terranova teamed to win the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 2 at Tampa Bay Downs with Falling Sky, a top Tampa Bay Derby candidate.
Martinez rides Off the Jak in the Grade III, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap for sprinters. The 5-year-old gelding is trained by Shivananda Parbhoo and owned by his daughter, Sherry Parbhoo. Martinez won the 2012 Xpressbet Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita for the Parbhoos on Trinniberg.
The Tom Fool is the ninth race and the Gotham is the 10th on Aqueduct’s card, which will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs.
Following Sunday’s 10-race program, Tampa Bay Downs scales its Thoroughbred program back to four days a week: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.