Unbeaten top Kentucky Derby contenders Verrazano and Vyjack will battle in a clash of the titans this Saturday in the $1 million G1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, NY.
They headline a fine 10-horse field that also include G2 Remsen Stakes second-place finisher Normandy Invasion and Private Terms winner Mr. Palmer.
The G1 Wood Memorial is the last New York Kentucky Derby prep race, and offers 170 Derby qualifying points to the first four finishers. The winner gets 100 points, second gets 50, third 20 and fourth 10.
Verrazano, the Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool 3 individual favorite, has all eyes on him this Saturday. His three wins coming by a combined 27 lengths, have been visually impressive and fans are waiting for more from him.
The son of More Than Ready out of the Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock, has been turning heads on the track, in the mornings and afternoons. He has been constantly impressive with his workouts and transferring them to his performances in the races.
His last workout was a five-furlong move in company with Discreet Dancer, who is the favorite in the G1 Carter Handicap a race earlier in the card. They were credited with the same time (1:01), fastest of 15 at the distance that day—although Verrazano finished a neck in front.
His regular rider, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, was aboard for the work and will be riding him on Saturday. Velazquez also rides G1 Florida Derby winner Orb, meaning he will have a tough decision to make if Verrazano wins the Wood convincingly.
Verrazano comes from winning the G3 Tampa Bay Derby. He did this in convincing fashion even after bobbling at the start, grabbing a quarter, facing a strange and sometimes tricky track. Not to mention, it was the first time he ran around two turns.
Verrazano is owned by Let's Go Stable—a partnership by Kevin Scatuorchio and his brother-in-law Bryan Sullivan—Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith of Coolmore.
He is trained by four-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who will be looking to win his third Wood in four years. He won it with Eskendereya in 2010 and Gemologist last year.
Verrazano, so far, has done everything to make everyone think he's the best three-year-old in training. He has everything going his way and is definitely the horse to beat in this race.
His main rival, Vyjack, has won his first four races with less fan fare. But his last win in the G3 Gotham Stakes was impressive in the way he was able to change his style to run from behind and win driving clear.
Though his workouts, trainer Rudy Rodriguez with his brother Gustavo (riding,) has been working on getting him to relax and run to catch a target. It all paid off when in the Gotham, he came from 10th place to win the race.
Rodriguez switched jockeys from Cornelio Velazquez to Joel Rosario prior to the Gotham. Besides being one of the nation's top jockeys, Rosario is very good at relaxing horses. He was able to relax Vyjack in the back of the pack, get on the clear in the stretch and easily drive for the win.
He also has the as the home-field advantage with all four wins coming at Aqueduct. He won the G2 Jerome Stakes to begin his 2013 season in the race before winning the G3 Gotham Stakes.
His trainer Rodriguez has done an outstanding job with the gelding son of Into Mischief out of the Stravinsky mare Life Happened. He is primed for a big race on Saturday.
Vyjack runs for the colors of David Wilkenfeld's Pick Six Racing stable.
There is also a third contender in the race—with equal chance to win—that seems to be flying under the radar, and that is Normandy Invasion. The Chad Brown-trained colt finished an even fifth in his debut at Belmont Park on Sept. 15 but came back to win at Aqueduct on Nov. 2.
He showed on the Derby radar for the first time when he lost by a nose to 3-2 favorite Overanalyze in the G2 Remsen Stakes as the 7-2 third pick on Nov. 24 at Aqueduct. He then sort of fell off the radar after finishing fifth in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 23 .
But you have to somewhat overlook that last race. Normandy Invasion had a very rough trip, he bobbled after a slow start, had traffic problems in the first turn and had to take a seven-wide trip entering the stretch.
The son of Tapit out of the Boston Harbor mare Boston Lady is a very talented horse and should show it on Saturday. He is primed for his best race yet; his last three workouts have been the best of the day each time at the distance covered.
You have to add that he's had success in Aqueduct, and the nation's leading jockey, Javier Castellano, will replace regular rider Jose Lezcano on Saturday.
Normandy Invasion is owned by Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms. Porter owned Eight Belles, who in 2008, finished an impressive second in the Kentucky Derby and then collapsed immediately after crossing the wire while being slowed after the race.
If you look for a winner after this big three, you have to dig very deep.
Always a Tiz has to be given some consideration. He finished a distant fifth to Super Ninety Nine in the G3 Southwest, but that was on the slop where the only one to ran well was the winner.
Before that, he finished a close third—just a neck—behind the winner Will Take Charge, who finished half-a-length behind Always a Tiz in the Southwest. Will Take Charge came back to win the G2 Rebel on a dry track, beating among others, the Southwest runaway winner, Super Ninety Nine.
He will add blinkers and three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel aboard for the first time on Saturday. He is worth a good look on you all your bets.
Mr Palmer, has won two straight including the ungraded Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park on his last start Mar. 9. But nothing he has faced so far is even close in quality to what he will be facing on Saturday.
Chrisandthecapper, Quinzieme Monarch, Elnaawi, Go Get the Basil and Freedom Child round up the field.
Elnaawi and Freedom Child are expected to show the way in the early going, but neither is a real threat in the race. John Velazquez will place Verrazano following closely in third on the clear just to their outside.
If anyone is to challenge Verrazano, they can't be far behind early. Expect Vyjack and Always a Tiz to be closer than in their previous races and maybe even Normandy Invasion running fifth, no farther than sixth early.
But this race will belong to the freakish train that is Verrazano. He will take over the lead with ease shortly after they start rounding the far turn. The rest will start moving and chasing him all the way to the wire.
Verrazano will win the race and establish himself as the preeminent favorite for the Kentucky Derby, regardless of what will happen in the Santa Anita Derby later on, or at Keeneland or Oaklawn next weekend.
Also expect John Velazquez to decide for Verrazano over Orb early next week.
Win: Verrazano (8)
Place: Normandy Invasion (2)
Show: Vyjack (5)
Don't Overlook: Always a Tiz (7)
Wood Memorial | Grade 1 | Purse: $1 million
Aqueduct | 11th Race | Post Time: 6:28 p.m. ET
Distance: 1800 Meters (9.0 furlongs)
|1||Chrisandthcapper||Jose Lezcano||Jason Servis||30/1|
|2||Normandy Invasion||Javier J. Castellano||Chad C. Brown||5/1|
|3||Quinzieme Monarque*||Irad Ortiz Jr||Thomas Albertrani||30/1|
|4||Elnaawi||Eddie Castro||Kiaran P. McLaughlin||12/1|
|5||Vyjack||Joel Rosario||Rudy R. Rodriguez||4/1|
|6||Mr Palmer||Junior Alvarado||William I. Mott||12/1|
|7||Always a Tiz**||Calvin H. Borel||Dominick A. Schettino||15/1|
|8||Verrazano||John R. Velazquez||Todd A. Pletcher||4/5|
|9||Go Get the Basil||Jose L. Ortiz||Richard A. Violette Jr||30/1|
|10||Freedom Child*||Elvis Trujillo||Thomas Albertrani||30/1|
* - first time Lasix
** - blinkers-on
Top Recent Workouts
|Horse||Date||Track/Surface||Distance||Time ||Day Rank|
|Normandy Invasion ||Mar-31 ||PmM/Dirt ||4F ||47.80 ||1/35|
Morning Line odds by drf.com.