Todd Pletcher’s much talked about Verrazano will make his stakes debut on the Road to the Kentucky Derby when he exits the starting gate in Saturday’s Grade 2 $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa, Fla. Although the More Than Ready colt has only raced in a maiden and an allowance race since he began his career New Year’s Day, the dominance he showed in both victories has made him the 4-5 favorite going into Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby.
In his previous starts, Verrazano won by a combined margin of 24 lengths and picked up Brisnet speed figures of 97 (maiden) and 104 (allowance). No one else in Saturday’s field of nine runners has earned a Brisnet rating higher than 97, and that honor goes to Eddie Kenneally’s Hutchenson Stakes (G2) winner Honorable Dillon. The challenge for Verrazano will be going two turns, something he’s yet to try.
“So it was really about timing as far as the Tampa Bay Derby goes, two-turn experience important and the fact that we were able to win 2010 in Kentucky Derby with Super Saver who started off his campaign in the Tampa Derby,” said Pletcher. “We've had some success there before and I felt like it was a logical path to take.”
A top-four finish on Saturday would put Verrazano on the board in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system. The new Kentucky Derby points system replaces the graded stakes earnings system as the determiner of Kentucky Derby entrants. In the first phase, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season that concluded Feb. 18, the top four finishers in 19 pre-determined races were awarded points of 10-4-2-1, respectively. A total of five Grade II and three Grade III races comprise the first leg of phase two, which began Feb. 23, in which the top four finishers in the pre-determined races are awarded points of 50-20-10-5, respectively. The second leg of phase two begins Mar. 30 and includes two Grade II and five Grade I events in which the top four finishers in these pre-determined races will receive points of 100-40-20-10, respectively. The series concludes with two wild card races in which the top four finishers will be awarded 20-8-4-2 points, respectively.
If Verrazano wins the Tampa Bay Derby, the 50 points should assure him an entry in the Kentucky Derby. Verrazano is co-owned by Let’s Go Stable, the same syndicate that took El Padrino to the Kentucky Derby last year. Jockey John Velazquez, who was aboard in Verrazano’s prior starts, will be in the irons Saturday.
Second choice on the morning line is Dynamic Sky at odds of 4-1. In his last start, this Mark Casse runner was second by a neck to Falling Sky in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis that was run over this track Feb. 2. The pair will face off again on Saturday. At odds of 10-1, John Terranova’s Falling Sky was given little respect for the Sam Davis victory.
As Verrazano goes to the lead, Falling Sky, who does his best running on the front-end, may try to challenge, but lacks the speed to compete with him. Dynamic Sky will likely set just off the pace. Although he hasn’t shown the speed Verrazano has, should the deep, sandy track be too tiring for Verrazano to take the field wire-to-wire, Dynamic Sky may find himself in a position to pounce as they turn for home.
The next likely challenger is Eddie Kenneally’s 6-1 Honorable Dillon. The Hutcheson Stakes winner is another that will likely be just behind Verrazano. However, the speed he’s shown in his four lifetime starts puts him at an advantage over Dynamic Sky to reign in Verrazano. Jockey Corey Lanerie will get his first ride aboard this son of Tapit.
A longshot to watch is Jane Cibelli’s Purple Egg at odds of 10-1. He’s undefeated in three career starts including the ungraded Inaugural Stakes run at Tampa Bay Downs Dec. 12. The Inaugural win came after a three-month layoff and the race chart shows that he wore down the leader going into the stretch. Purple Egg will make his three-year-old debut Saturday and his first attempt at a route distance. He’s worked exclusively at Tampa Bay Downs since the Inaugural and his work tab is riddled with bullets. He picks up a new jock in Elvis Trujillo.
The entire field, with odds, from the rail out is Eton Blue 20-1, Purple Egg 10-2, Honorable Dillon 6-1, Java’s War 12-1, Dynamic Sky 4-1, Verrazano 4-5, Offlee Fast 30-1, Park City 12-1, and Falling Sky 10-1.
The race is the 10th on Tampa Bay Downs’s Saturday card with a scheduled post time of 5:15 p.m. It can be seen on HRTV and TVG. Free PPs for the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, the other Road to the Kentucky Derby points race this weekend, provided by Brisnet .
Photo: Courtesy Gulfstream Park: Coglianese Photos/Courtney Heeney