Horse players have got to love Verrazano, I mean love him more than pizza, beer, and a ballpark hot dog. But not for the obvious reason. That obvious reason is that Verrazano is just another horse in a long line of Wood Memorial (future) failures. How long is that line? Let’s just say it makes the DMV look like an afternoon well spent.
So I hear he’s 4-for-4. If it weren’t for the Derby Points System I’d expect an N1X to be starting because, baby, he’s got the look. Speak nothing of experience anymore. Yikes.
The Wood Memorial is turning out to be like the Master’s Par 3 Challenge—a kiss of death. No winner of the Par 3 has won the Master’s. The leader often gives his putter away on the final hole so he’s DQd. You’d have to go back to 1981 to find a winner of the Wood holding down his end of the bargain. Pleasant Colony. You may have heard of him.
Yet horses coming out of the Wood never fail to dazzle, sparkle, and intrigue. As I troll Twitter like a lobster trolls Frenchmen’s Bay, I see lots of people into Verrazano. Heck, he’s No. 2 on our poll. When he won the Wood it was like he was the second coming of a T-Rex.
Verrazano worked at Churchill, a swift little 5-furlong jaunt, in company, in one of the more staged bouts of practice a horse might experience. Kind of brilliant training, actually.
The Churchill franchise location of Todd Pletcher saw Verrazano get his work on in 1:00.20, the unretired Hall of Famer Gary Stevens filling in for the sidelined Hall of Famer, John Velazquez. Let’s hear what the Toddster had to say:
“We wanted a good, solid five-furlong breeze and we wanted to sit him behind another horse and have him sit back and relax for a little bit,” Pletcher said. “We also wanted to have him finish up good and gallop out strong. He accomplished all that. I thought he went great and he seemed to get over the track well. We liked what we saw.”
I guess when you only have four races under your belt, you might as well do your race simulation in the controlled environment of Churchill before dawn. Remember when horses schooled in the afternoons? Yeah, me neither.
The past few winners of the Wood is a list of wounded soldiers Florence Nightengale wouldn’t touch: I Want Revenge, Gemololgist, Eskendreya, Toby’s Corner. Maybe the Wood’s a nice way to collect a paycheck, but an awful way to win roses. It’s more cursed than the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher position.
The last horse to do anything of true consequence was Empire Maker back in 2003 but he had to wait until the Belmont; runnerup Funny Cide was the way to go that year.
Is there a way to save the Wood winner? The best suggestion I can think of is move the Wood to five weeks out from the Derby. It may be that four weeks is no longer enough time. (In a related side note, the Blue Grass needs to move back to four weeks. The Arkansas Derby probably should too. Three weeks’ rest is so 1991.)
Sure, last year I’ll Have Another won the Santa Anita Derby on the same 4-weeks rest. Perhaps the four weeks will be enough rest to win a Kentucky Derby, but surely not enough to prime a 3-year-old for a legit bid at a Triple Crown. Of course, what to do with the Florida and Louisiana Derbies is another story.
Most recently Big Brown won the Derby after five weeks rest. Barbaro had six weeks rest. Both were the best shot at winning the Triple Crown in years. (Smarty Jones probably should have won it and he came into the Triple Crown off a 3-week Arkansas Derby layoff, so maybe all this means absolutely nothing.)
As for Verrazano? Trust me, he will prove to be the ultimate bridge jumper.