Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pletchers' Verrazano plans go beyond Tampa Bay Derby

Jockey John Velazquez rides Verrazano to an easy win, by 16¼ lengths, at an allowance race at Gulfstream Park last month.

ADAM COGLIANESE | Special to the Times

Jockey John Velazquez rides Verrazano to an easy win, by 16¼ lengths, at an allowance race at Gulfstream Park last month.

OLDSMAR

It is time to move up in class. Time to win. Time to make the mentor proud.

For Verrazano, the 3-year-old colt named after a 16th century Italian explorer, life has been grand. He is unbeaten and unchallenged under five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, winning his first two starts by 24 combined lengths. He enters today's Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby as the individual favorite in the first two Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools.

Watching trackside at Tampa Bay Downs will be J.J. Pletcher, Todd's father, who broke and trained Verrazano at his Payton Training Center in Ocala. While the 1�-mile Tampa Bay Derby will be the first start at two turns and first against stakes company for Verrazano, J.J. Pletcher is expecting big things from the budding star.

"We'll be very disappointed if he doesn't go in another real impressive race," said Pletcher, 75, who has been involved with horses for 50 years.

The Tampa Bay Derby is consequential on Festival Day. With today's winner earning 50 points in the new Road to the Kentucky Derby series, a starting spot is virtually assured in the May 4 Triple Crown race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Today's nine-horse field includes Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Falling Sky, Davis runner­up Dynamic Sky, Hutcheson Stakes winner Honorable Dillon and local favorite Purple Egg. Verrazano, who has no Kentucky Derby qualifying points, starts from post 6 with jockey John Velazquez. The Tampa Bay Derby is Race 10 scheduled for 5:15 p.m.

Todd Pletcher is trying the same route that has produced his only Kentucky Derby winner. In 2010, Super Saver finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby. Pletcher is 1-for-10 at the Tampa Bay Derby, winning with Limehouse in 2004. But six of those starters advanced to the Kentucky Derby.

Verrazano's stock has risen after victories at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. After breaking his maiden Jan. 1 by 7¾ lengths at 6½ furlongs, he dominated a 1-mile allowance race Feb. 2 by 16¼ lengths.

"(His progress) has been pretty straightforward," Pletcher, 45, said. "What you saw in his allowance win was very impressive. He's very professional. He's got that unique quality of speed and stamina to go with it. He's come along really, really well in the last few months."

J.J. Pletcher got Verrazano in September 2011 after Let's Go Stable, owned by brothers-in-law Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan, purchased him for $250,000 at the Keeneland (Ky.) yearling sale. Verrazano was galloped regularly until the following February, when time came for his first breeze. The bay colt made an immediate impression.

"You know the good ones when you see them," J.J. Pletcher said. "They're like athletes and do everything so easy. When they do breeze, they're breezing easily and you think, 'Man, what's he doing?' You look down and he's going real fast. You can do whatever you want to with him — place him up close or come from behind. He is laid back and has got a real good mind."

After Verrazano's allowance victory, the Coolmore team of Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor purchased an interest in the Kentucky-bred at an undisclosed price.

Verrazano didn't race at 2 years old because of sore shins, J.J. Pletcher said.

"That's something that goes along with real young horses," he said.

J.J. is familiar with Verrazano's bloodlines. He broke his sire, More Than Ready, and half-brother, El Padrino. More Than Ready was a Grade I winner who never won farther than 7 furlongs. He was among Todd Pletcher's first group of Kentucky Derby starters in 2000 and finished fourth. El Padrino won the Grade II Risen Star Stakes in 2012 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and was 13th in the Kentucky Derby last year. El Padrino was the first foal out of Verrazano's dam, Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock.

The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old was Apollo in 1882. If Verrazano can keep pace with More Than Ready, who started his career with five consecutive victories, the Pletchers would be pleased. That fifth win would come on the first Saturday in May in Kentucky.

. At A Glance

33rd annual Festival Day

When: Today — gates open at 10:30 a.m.; 12-race card with first post at 12:38 p.m.

Where: Tampa Bay Downs, Oldsmar

Highlight: Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds in Race 10, 5:15. A Road to the Kentucky Derby series event with the first four finishers receiving qualifying points on a sliding scale (50-20-10-5). Entries with current points: Falling Sky 10, Dynamic Sky 8, Java's War 2

Other stakes races: Grade III $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1⅛ miles on turf in Race 9, 4:45; $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile, 40 yards in Race 8, 4:15

Nationally: Grade II $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., also offering 85 RKD qualifying points, is today in Race 7, 6:35

Area simulcast sites: Derby Lane, St. Petersburg; Tampa Greyhound Track

Pletchers' Verrazano plans go beyond Tampa Bay Derby 03/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 11:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Updated game story: Lightning's Brayden Point credits luck, opportunity for OT winner vs. Jets

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — His coach says he plays every game as if he doesn't play his best, he's going to be sent down. That is not the case with Brayden Point, but who doesn't want that kind of effort from a second-year player who has more than established himself in the NHL?

  2. Brayden Point scores in OT to give Lightning win over Jets

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The Jets saw Saturday's game against the Lightning as a benchmark game, a way to measure themselves against the NHL's top team. The Lightning had circled the game, the last of a four-game home stand.

  3. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield wins Heisman Trophy

    College

    NEW YORK — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, completing a climb from walk-on to one of the most accomplished players in the history of college football.

  4. Florida defeats Cincinnati to end skid

    Colleges

    NEWARK, N.J. — Chris Chiozza scored the final six points of the game and No. 5 Florida snapped a three-game losing streak with a 66-60 victory over No. 17 Cincinnati on Saturday in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center.

  5. Lightning journal: Power-play players make me look good, Jon Cooper says

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — How about that Lightning power play.