Monday, November 25, 2013

Verrazano’s Odd-yssey

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November, 25, 20`3--In trying to buff a shine on the weeks following the Breeders’ Cup, perhaps a logical way of assessing these end times of 2013 is to neither call it an epilogue, nor coda, but more of a stud’s last stand. Let’s call it The Verrazano Redemption.

The Cigar Mile looks as fun and interesting as any race on the entire 2013 calendar. Shame it’s after the Breeders’ Cup, but that’s a shame and an advantage these days. A shame because a race of this magnitude deserves better billing in the playoff picture leading up to the BC. An advantage because, despite running four weeks after the Super Bowl of Horse Racing, it provides a well-attended field to an otherwise time of year when you may ask why-should-I-even-watch-horse-racing-at-this-time-of-year?

For a casual fan, not many will care. For racing media, numbered as it is, it’s some extra log for the fire. For owners, it’s one last stab at proving their horse is worth selling out. This is Verrazano’s Last Stand.

Sadly for him it’ll be like Custer,s Last Stand, so aptly sketched by Gary Larson, creator of Far Side.

Verrazano is and will always be a two-turn fraud. He’s big. He’s imposing. But he’s also like a flashy wide receiver who only runs deep posts, won’t run over the middle and dogs it when it matters (no horse truly “dogs” it; it’s what I love about horses, that they always run their hardest).

This is a race for black type and Verrazano needs it more than anyone in this field. Verrazano fit the Todd Pletcher Profile of Three-Year-Olds. He was precocious and unbeaten—and un-raced—heading into his sophomore year.

This last note, to me, is the stamp Pletcher wants to have on his legacy, that he can win a Derby with a horse that didn’t race at two. The Sheiks want to win a Derby training their way in Dubai, then ship. Pletcher’s mentor, Wayne Lukas, changed horse racing forever by shipping his horses all over the country. Pletcher must be looking for his stamp and trying to win a Derby with horses debuting at three may be his. It’s never happened.

Verrazano won his maiden special weight on New Year’s Day. A month later he won an allowance and in start No. 3 he won the Tampa Bay Derby. He handled the Wood Memorial too, where he circumvented a very slow pace. All Verrazano did was win horse races—and lure horse players into taking their money.

Looking back, given his precocity, the owners must be thinking they could’ve done something special with him as a two-year-old, maybe banked a couple million with a Champagne, a Juvy, maybe even a Remsen since he would like Aqueduct enough. But we don’t choose these things; they choose us.

Verrazano was 4-0 heading into the Derby. He had those fresh legs that only a horse that hadn’t run at two can boast. Then he finished 16th.
Then we didn’t see him for a while. The Derby was his Iliad; he was lost, beaten, separated from his herd, captured by seductive nymphs. Seriously, how did the Greeks lose? What with Achilles and all? (Is Pletcher Achilles? All powerful, but with one weakness: An immense and ungodly amount of sensitivity located specifically below his soleus and above his heal?)

How would Verrazano come back from it? Where would his odyssey take him? He found micro-tests in Monmouth where he meddled with a cast of creatures like the Cyclops Polyphemus, blinding him, but in so doing pissing off Poseidon (10 furlong races?) who then destroyed his ship (any chance at an Eclipse?).

A win in the Cigar Mile may be a small triumph over Calyspo (Groupie Doll?), in a race home (Kentucky?) to Penelope (mare, after mare, after mare?).

Here we were knockin’ on Verrazano. He’s had it figured out from Day 1.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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