Going into Saturday’s Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, Todd Pletcher’s Verrazano was the buzz horse on Kentucky Derby top ten lists although he’d never raced in a stakes, never raced around two turns, nor had he earned a single point in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system. However, a crowd of 10,746 came out to Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa, Fla. to see this son of More Than Ready live up to the hype and put naysayers to rest with a three length victory over his rivals.
Sent off as the 2-5 favorite, Verrazano bobbled at the start, but overcame and went to the lead with the Sam F. Davis winner Falling Sky. Verrazano and jockey John Velazquez relaxed for a few furlongs and allowed Falling Sky to take the lead as the field of nine made their way around the first turn. Velazquez asked Verrazano for run as the undefeated Purple Egg and Mark Casse’s Dynamic Sky tried to move on the leaders, and Verrazano gained the lead. Falling Sky continued to stay with him, gaining the lead again briefly before Verrazano turned on the gas. As the field turned for home, Kenny McPeek’s Java’s War made a late charge from far back to overcome Falling Sky in the stretch, but it was easy going for Verrazano, three lengths ahead at the wire. Falling Sky finished third, 4 ¼ lengths behind Java’s War. Dynamic Sky was another 1 ¼ lengths back in fifth.
“Today was a good performance,” said Pletcher. “He is a lot like his sire, More Than Ready; he has a great disposition and a great mind. You always worry about the variables – his first time shipping to a new place, the first time around 2 turns, the first time in a stakes. So we had a lot of variables he hadn’t seen before and he seemed to handle them real well.”
Verrazano, owned by Let’s Go Stable, Mike Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith, picked up 50 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system that replaced the graded earnings rankings for entry into the Kentucky Derby. He is now third on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard behind Vyjack and Orb, both with 50 points. Java’s War picked up 20 points and is now 8th on the list, while Falling Sky added 10 points to his previous 10 to grab the 9th position. Dynamic Sky earned another 5 points and is currently ranked 13 with 13 points.
Verrazano returned $2.80, $2.60, and $2.10. Java’s War paid $14.60 and $8 and completed the $2 exacta for $43.20. Falling Sky paid $4.60 and completed the $2 trifecta for $282.40. Dynamic Sky completed the $1 superfecta for $493.60. The final time for the 1 1/16 mile race over the fast dirt was 1:43.96.
Photo: Courtesy Gulfstream Park: Coglianese Photos/Courtney Heeney