Verrazano, the shortest-priced individual entrant in each of the first two Kentucky Derby Future Wagers, validated the enthusiasm of ante-post bettors across the country with a smooth stakes debut win in Saturday's Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.
The prohibitive 2-5 favorite versus eight rivals, the Todd Pletcher trainee was prominent throughout under John Velazquez. Away alertly, the son of More Than Ready battled with Falling Sky to the clubhouse turn before taking back and allowing that rival to dictate terms. Falling Sky's lead was only a half-length after a quarter-mile in :23 2/5, and Verrazano, who had angled outside Falling Sky after yielding, continued to apply throughout the run down the backside.
Under a firm hold, Verrazano edged clear to a one-length lead following a half in :47 3/5, and maintained that advantage after six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. The bay was on cruise control as Falling Sky tried to keep pace at the top of the stretch, but Verrazano proved too difficult a foe as he extended his advantage through the stretch run. The winning margin was three lengths in a time of 1:43 4/5 over a fast track. Verrazano paid $2.60, $2.60 and $2.10.
"Down the backstretch I had a lot of horse and I just let him do his thing," Velazquez said. "I asked him for something in the turn, and he had as much as I thought he would. He was running very strong to the finish."
"Today was a good performance," Pletcher said. "He is a lot like his sire, More Than Ready; he has a great disposition and a great mind. You always worry about the variables -- his first time shipping to a new place, the first time around two turns, the first time in a stakes. So we had a lot of variables he hadn't seen before and he seemed to handle them real well.
"We were a little unsure of what the pace scenario would be. You had horses with speed coming out of other races and ideally we wanted to stalk someone, but he is so naturally fast for a big horse, there wasn't enough pace to get behind too many horses.
"He stumbled a little bit leaving the gate, but he seemed to recover quickly and put himself in a good spot. Once John got him to the middle of the track and got him to settle, it looked like he was very relaxed throughout. When he made the lead, he kind of pricked his ears like he tends to do and seemed like he was waiting a little on the competition."
Java's War, a 32-1 outsider, was the only horse who rallied from the back. The trailer after a half-mile, the stakes-winning son of War Pass rallied well to finish a clear second, 4 1/4-lengths clear of a tiring Falling Sky. The latter had 1 1 /4 lengths on 9-2 second choice Dynamic Sky, who was followed by Eton Blue, Park City, Honorable Dillon, Offlee Fast and Purple Egg.
Verrazano, who closed at 11-1 in the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool and 9-1 in the second, is owned by Lets Go Stable and the Coolmore connections of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. Coolmore purchased an interest in the colt last month.
Verrazano was a daylight winner of his two prior starts at Gulfstream Park: a 6 1/2-furlong maiden on New Year's Day by 7 3/4 lengths, and a one-mile allowance on February 2 by 16 1/4 lengths over Eton Blue. His earnings now stand at $261,300.
Pletcher said he would choose among three final Kentucky Derby preps for Verrazano's next start -- the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30, the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 6, or the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 13.
A $250,000 Keeneland September yearling, Verrazano was bred in Kentucky by Emory Hamilton. He was produced by the Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock, also the dam of Grade 2 victor El Padrino.
Verrazano's second dam was Grade 1 winner Chic Shirine, whose other offspring include Grade 2 winners Waldoboro and Tara Roma. Other descendants of Chic Shirine include Grade 1 winner Serra Lake, Grade 2 winners Hungry Island and Al Khali, and Grade 3 winners Cappuchino, Somali Lemonade and Soaring Empire.
Verrazano's third dam was Grade 1 queen Too Chic, who reared 1991 champion older mare Queena. The latter was the dam of Grade 1 victor Brahms and Grade 3 vixen La Reina.
Farther back in this female line is Verrazano's fifth dam, Monade, who captured the Epsom Oaks and was a champion in England and France.