Sent off as the 4-5 favorite in the field of ten 3-year-olds, Verrazano ran second through the early going as longshot Chrisandthecapper led before giving way on the far turn. With Vyjack mounting his challenge on the outside from fifth, Verrazano rounded the turn with a narrow lead that he clung to through the stretch, digging in through the final yards to hit the wire just ahead of the fast-closing Normandy Invasion.
The winning time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:50.27.
“He made kind of a quick move on the turn, and then idled a little bit, and made another quick move and idled a bit, which he has a tendency to do, but a very good effort,” said trainer Todd Pletcher.
The victory gave Verrazano an additional 100 points on the new Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying system, and he will head to Churchill Downs on April 14 as the likely favorite for the May 4 Run for the Roses.
“There’s some more preps to go, but I would say right now he’s the legitimate [Derby] favorite,” said Pletcher, who won the 2010 Wood with Eskendereya and last year’s running with Gemologist. “The key now is to go to Churchill and get over that track well. Churchill can be a very peculiar surface, and a lot of horses don’t handle it.
Normandy Invasion, trained by Chad Brown for Fox Hill Farm, was a neck in front of Vyjack, whose four-race winning streak at his home track came to an end.
“We were happy the way he ran,” said Rudy Rodriguez, trainer of Vyjack, who with 70 points likely has secured a berth in the starting gate for the Derby.
By virtue of his runner-up effort, Normandy Invasion now has 44 points in the qualifying system.
Verrazano, whose previous three victories came in Florida, including the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, earned $600,000 to lift his bankroll to $861,300 while his backers in the crowd of 12,119 collected $3.60 for a $2 win bet.
The next day, Verrazano was a happy and hungry horse.
“The horse came back in great order,” said Michael McCarthy, assistant to Pletcher. “Everything is good. Looking at the race, he was waiting on horses and every time he was challenged, he answered the call.”