He is undefeated and already has taken plenty of wagering action, but the early Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano sure has the look of an underlay as we head into Derby Week.
The colt is the top runner among the three-year-olds in the very deep Todd Pletcher barn, who will send out five and possibly six runners in the Run for the Roses, which will be contested on Saturday, May 4 at Churchill Downs.
The colt has done little wrong in four starts, his combined winning margin at 27 ¾ lengths. He was heavily bet in all three Kentucky Derby Future Pools.
Pool 1 closed on Feb. 10 and he closed at odds of 11-1 despite having just two starts under his belt, his maiden win and a victory against first level optional claimers.
In Pool 2, which closed on March 3 he closed at odds of 9-1, still with just the two starts under his belt. He won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) the following Saturday, and when Pool 3 closed on March 24 he price had shrunk to 7-1.
Since that time he won the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct on April 6, and his future price off-shore has dipped to as low as 4-1.
With a 20-horse field likely on Derby Day, his price figures to be somewhere between 9-2 and 5-1, possibly as low as 4-1. That just seems very light, and there is no shortage of reasons why we may want to beat him next Saturday.
The Wood Hex: At one time the Wood Memorial used to be a race that was right at the top of my list as key Derby preps. However, we saw three winners in a row from 2009 to 2011 not even make it the race. I Want Revenge, Eskendereya and Toby’s Corner all came up injured after the Wood and did not even make it to the starting gate on the first Saturday of May.
Last year Gemologist was considered a major player in the Derby after his Wood win, was sent off as the 8-1 third choice but finished a disappointing 16th.
The last Wood winner to win the Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. From 2004 to 2007 the Wood winners did not fare very well: Tapit (7th), Bellamy Road (7th), Bob and John (17th) and Nobiz Like Shobiz (10th).
In 2008 Take of Ekati checked in a respectable fourth.
The Pletcher Hex: Sure, Todd Pletcher is a five-time Eclipse Award winning trainer. He saddled Super Saver to victory in the 2010 Derby. I had the colt as my top pick, ignoring Pletcher’s then record of 0 for 24 in the Run for the Roses.
Pletcher comes in here this year with a 1 for 33 mark. Even if he does manage to win the race on Saturday, next year we may still be talking about his poor record as it will likely be 2 for 38.
The Juvenile Hex: We will probably hear about 1882 Kentucky Derby winner Apollo more than usual this year. He was the last Derby winner to go unraced as a juvenile. Verrazano did not race as a juvenile, but he only missed by 24 hours.
The colt made his debut on New Year’s Day, breaking his maiden by 7 ¾ lengths at Gulfstream Park. We have seen most of the other “rules” broken the past decade, so it is tough to hold this one against the colt since he missed by just 24 hours.
However, I would rather have my Derby selection have a couple of races as a juvenile, preferably at least one going a route of ground. A little juvenile foundation can go a long way on the first Saturday of May.
The Velazquez Factor: Just one day after winning the Wood aboard Verrazano, jockey John Velazquez was involved in a spill, sending the hall of fame rider to the hospital. He suffered an injury to his first rib on his right side and chipped the radius bone on his right wrist and has been on the sidelines since.
He plans on returning and picking up a few mounts starting Wednesday, but is he going to be 100% by Saturday?
If I was Pletcher, I would be a bit nervous. Velazquez also was the regular rider of Florida Derby (G1) winner Orb, and I have to think trainer Shug McGaughey was relieved to find out Velazquez is sticking with Verrazano.
McGaughey went out and got Joel Rosario, who rode Orb in his first five starts and has been on fire in recent weeks.
Verrazano is certainly one of the most talented of his crop, but the question we have to ask is whether or not 9-2 offers any value on Derby Day. Chances are there are going to be several others in the field that are going to offer more bang for the buck.
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