There were three Kentucky Derby prep races on Saturday and we saw a couple of outstanding performances, but it was a first level optional claimer that created the most buzz.
Trainer Todd Pletcher sent out maiden winner Verrazano to take on winners for the first time going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park in the fifth race on Saturday, and just about 90 seconds later racebooks in Las Vegas were scrambling around to lower the price on the talented son of More Than Ready.
The $250,000 Keeneland purchase made his debut on New Year’s Day at Gulfstream Park, drawing clear to win by 7 ¾ lengths and earning a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. The runner-up in the race was Acclaim, who came back to graduate in his next outing on Jan. 27.
On Saturday with John Velazquez the colt pressed the early pace from the outside, took command on the far turn and drew off smartly to win by 16 ¼ lengths. He did not beat a real tough group, but earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure.
The only Beyer we have seen higher so far on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this year was the 104 earned by Itsmylucklyday in his victory in the Grade 3 Holy Bull on Jan. 26.
Verrazano wins at Gulfstream Park on Saturday
Pletcher was not sure where the colt would make his stakes debut, stating the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 23 was too quick a turn-around. Both the Grade 2 Gotham in New York on March 2 and the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 are part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series and worth 50 points to the winner and would be good spots.
Pletcher will probably want to keep the colt from competing against his other top Derby contenders until the first Saturday of May. Pletcher is loaded with talented three-year-olds with Shanghai Bobby, Violence, Overanalyze, Revolutionary and Delhomme among the 29 runners Pletcher nominated to the Triple Crown.
Here is a quick look at the three Derby preps:
Withers: Revolutionary only earned an 86 Beyer, the lowest of the three preps, but the Pletcher trainee certainly got an education. The colt took four tries to break his maiden, and overcame all kinds of trouble to get up late to win by a neck in the Withers. The colt figures to move forward in his final Derby prep, and that may come in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30.
Revolutionary wins Withers
Sam F. Davis: This was the best wagering race and while my top pick My Name Is Michael was a disappointing third, my second choice Falling Sky got the job done at a nice overlay, returning $17.80, with my third choice Dynamic Sky completing a recommended exacta that returned $59.60.
The John Terranova trainee skipped the Hutcheson to go two turns in the Davis and the stretch out was the right move. The colt went gate to wire and held on by a neck, earning a 92 Beyer. The $16,000 purchase is by Lion Heart out of a stakes placed Sea Hero mare. Sea Hero won the 1993 Kentucky Derby. Terranova did not say what’s next, but the Tampa Bay Derby seems like a logical spot for the colt.
Falling Sky wins Sam F. Davis
Robert B. Lewis: Hall of fame trainer Bob Baffert ran one-two in the Lewis, with Flashback taking the short field gate to wire, drawing off to win by 6 ¼ lengths under Julien Leparoux, with Den’s Legacy landing second. Flashback earned a 92 Beyer in his stakes debut. The colt broke his maiden in his debut at Hollywood Park on Dec. 8 by 3 ½ lengths. Baffert indicated the colt would make two more starts before heading to Louisville, one of those starts coming in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 6.
Road to the Kentucky Derby
These are prep races for the Kentucky Derby coming up in the next couple of weeks, each offering points toward a starting spot in the gate for the Run for the Roses:
Feb. 16: Golden Gate Fields: El Camino Real Derby
Feb. 18: Oaklawn Park: Southwest Stakes
Feb. 23: Fair Grounds: Risen Star
Feb. 23: Gulfstream Park: Fountain of Youth
Michael Dempsey provides his full card handicapping report each racing day from New York. His Aqueduct Report is available every day Wednesday through Sunday. Michael has covered the New York circuit daily for more than two decades.