Verrazano entered Saturday's Wood Memorial Stakes as the prohibitive favorite, and backed up the deserved hype by emerging victorious over Normandy Invasion and Vyjack, who finished second and third respectively.
Claire Novak of BloodHorse.com reported the news. Verrazano was challenged by Vyjack but managed to stay out in front by three-quarters of a length, holding off a furious charge down the stretch by Normandy Invasion.
According to Bovada, Verrazano was a 12-1 shot to win the Kentucky Derby leading up to this race, and those odds should only improve after the win. The three-year-old colt is indeed a legitimate threat to win the Race for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
It will be interesting to see what jockey John Velazquez does, though, as the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown approaches.
The renowned Hall of Famer serves both Verrazano and surefire Kentucky Derby contender Orb. He was non-committal as to which horse he would saddle up with in Louisville after Saturday's triumph at Aqueduct Racetrack, as documented by HRTV's Twitter page:
"We have to make a decision sooner or later, but it won't be today," jockey John Velazquez said of being the rider of both Verrazano and Orb— HRTV (@HRTVinsider) April 6, 2013
Whether Velazquez is in Verrazano's corner or not, there is no room to question any longer whether the colt is a force to be reckoned with.
Both Vyjack and Normandy Invasion were the next favorites with 3-1 and 5-1 odds, respectively. Those numbers were still substantially longer than the 4-5 mark that bookmakers listed for Verrazano.
ESPN contributor Gary West noted before the race that Verrazano had won his three previous runs by a total of 27 lengths. Although victory was had in Orchard Park by a much slimmer margin, it still went a long way in dismissing concerns as to whether Verrazano could manage a slightly longer one-and-one-eighth mile track.
Those doubts came about for some critics due to Verrazano's slow start at the Tampa Bay Derby, where he still won by three lengths. As USA TODAY's Jennie Rees pointed out, it was Verrazano's maiden stakes race and the first time he had to navigate around two turns.
So far, so good for Verrazano—he's two-for-two.
Whether the third time will be the charm at Churchill Downs remains to be seen, since projecting success at the Derby from winners of the Wood Memorial doesn't reveal a consistent trend.
Trainer Todd Pletcher indicated in Rees' piece that Verrazano has the "wow" factor to be a dominant. He said the result from Tampa's tough track is actually more impressive than meets the eye—not only in light of the initial stumble, but also because it isn't a track that lends itself to a wide margin of victory.
In that context, and after Saturday's strong showing, Verrazano has to be considered among the favorites, at the very least, in Louisville in the first third of the Triple Crown.