Undefeated Verrazano was a happy and hungry horse the morning after his gritty victory in Saturday's Wood Memorial, and is scheduled to depart next Sunday for Churchill Downs as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
"The horse came back in great order," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who now has won three of the past four runnings of the Wood, with Eskendereya (2010) and Gemologist (2012). "Everything is good."
Owned in partnership by Let's Go Stable, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith, Verrazano will carry a four-for-four record with him to Louisville, Kentucky. The More Than Ready colt broke his maiden on January 1 at Gulfstream Park, added a 16 1/4-length optional claiming victory there on February 2, and annexed the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 prior to his three-quarter-length win in the Wood.
"Looking at the race, he was waiting on horses and every time he was challenged, he answered the call," McCarthy said. "It was a very good prep race. He got a lot out of it without doing too much."
In addition to more than tripling his earnings to $861,300 and giving Let's Go Stable its first Grade 1 win, Verrazano earned 100 points in the Derby qualifying system and with 150 total points shares the top spot in the standings with the Shug McGaughey-trained Orb.
Beginning with Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in 1930, 11 horses have completed the Wood-Derby double, most recently Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
Trainer Chad Brown saw a lot to like in Normandy Invasion's fast-closing second to Verrazano in the Wood. For the first time in his four-race career, Normandy Invasion started from an inside post position, and he responded well to a little bumping and racing in close quarters before angling outside at the top of the lane for a spirited drive home.
"I think he ran great yesterday, and he came out of the race good," Brown said. "He did everything I expected him to do except win, but just short of that I thought he ran great."
In his prior two starts, the Remsen last November and the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds, Normandy Invasion broke tardily and appeared to lightly clip heels each time. In the Wood, he got up into the race early, behind a slow opening quarter-mile of :24 4/5, and saved ground without getting trapped down on the inside.
"He had drawn outside every start in his career -- 9 or 10 (post position) -- and he finally drew inside and took advantage of it by saving ground," Brown said. "I thought the horse broke clean out of the gate. He was able to lay closer to a slow pace than he had in the past. It really helped him. I think he learned a lot from it, and we learned a lot from the horse. He ran as we suspected. He doesn't need to be that far away."
Brown said Normandy Invasion would travel to Kentucky on April 14 to begin preparations for the Kentucky Derby and get work in over the Churchill Downs track. The question, however, remains, whether Javier Castellano will retain the mount or ride Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary for Pletcher.
"I'd like to retain him on the horse; we all would," Brown said. "But, it's going to be up to him and his agent, and I'm sure he's going to monitor his two Derby mounts, their health and how they came out of their races before making a decision. We're not applying any pressure right now. We'll just see what they want to do."
Vyjack, whose four-race winning streak at the Big A ended with his third-place finish in the Wood, returned from his efforts in good order save for some mucous detected in a post-race examination, said trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
"He came back good, he ate good, he walked good this morning," Rodriguez said of the Pick Six Racing color-bearer. "There was some mucous when we scoped him, nothing bad. I don't want to use that as an excuse. I'm proud of the way he ran."
Rodriguez said the gelding will be treated with antibiotics for a few days and remains on target for the Kentucky Derby.
"It's like human beings, we get a little cold for a couple of days," Rodriguez said. "We'll clean it up, we'll check him out again, and move forward. He ran a good race against a good horse."
Michael Lauffer and Gregory McDonald's Mr Palmer, fourth in the Wood Memorial, did not earn the points necessary to run in the Kentucky Derby, but connections were pleased with the performance.
"We're real happy with him," said Leana Willaford, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. "He ran real well. There were some nice horses in there and he's made kind of a steady and nice progression since he came up here last fall. He certainly didn't embarrass himself or disappoint anybody. We'll just wait and see how he comes out of this.
"We've got plenty of options -- now that (the Derby) is off the schedule, you can kind of shop around with where to go. He looks like he should have a nice season ahead of him."