By RICHARD ROSENBLATT, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Verrazano has a chance to give trainer Todd Pletcher the favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
The unbeaten 3-year-old colt will seek his fourth straight win when he takes on nine rivals in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on Saturday — a final steppingstone to the Derby on May 4.
Verrazano is the overwhelming 4-5 favorite, with unbeaten Vyjack 4-1, Normandy Invasion 5-1 and the rest of the field ranging from 12-1 to 30-1.
"He's been a rare horse who's been able to go from a maiden on Jan. 1 to the Derby favorite on the first of April, which you don't see very often," Pletcher said of the horse named for the bridge connecting the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Pletcher has been over this bridge before, though, with mixed results.
This will be the fourth year in a row he'll send out the Wood favorite, winning last year with Gemologist and in 2010 with Eskendereya, and finishing third with Uncle Mo in 2011.
However, Eskendereya and Uncle Mo both missed the Derby because of health issues, and Gemologist finished 16th in the Run for the Roses.
In Verrazano, the trainer has a potential star in the making. The colt won his first race by 7 3/4 lengths, his second by 16 1/4 lengths and the Tampa Bay Derby by three lengths on March 9.
"He's been able to handle everything we've thrown at him so far and now we have another step to go," Pletcher said. "We're optimistic as he continues to develop he'll be able to continue to handle his assignments."
Verrazano did not race as a 2-year-old. The last Derby winner who did not race as a 2-year-old was Apollo in 1882.
"At some point, it's going to be broken and, obviously, we'd love to be the people that do it," said Bryan Sullivan, the co-manager of owner Let's Go Stable, which owns Verrazano. "But I don't think that's going to stop us. I don't think I'm going to point after the Kentucky Derby and say, 'Geez, you know what? The reason why we didn't win it is because we didn't run nine days earlier (at the end of 2012)."
Verrazano will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez and leave from the No. 8 post. Vyjack, with Joel Rosario aboard, leaves from the No. 5 post.
While Verrazano will be making his New York racing debut — about 18 miles from the bridge he's named for — Vyjack is 4-for-4 at Aqueduct, including wins in the Jerome and in the Gotham on March 2.
Under a new qualifying system, the 20-horse field for the Derby will be determined by points — Verrazano and Vyjack both rank in the top 10 with 50 points, and have already earned their spots.
The Wood is worth 170 points: 100 to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth. For the other eight horses in the field, a win or runner-up finish is needed to get into the Derby.
"There's a lot of pressure because you want to get 40 points for a chance to reach the Derby," said Dominick Schettino, who trains 15-1 shot Always in a Tiz.
The field, from the rail out, is Chrisandthecapper (Jose Lezcano, 30-1); Normandy Invasion (Chad Brown, Javier Castellano, 5-1); Quinzieme Monarque (Irad Ortiz, Jr., 30-1); Elnaawi (Eddie Castro, 12-1); Vyjack (Joel Rosario, 4-1); Mr Palmer (Junior Alvarado, 12-1); Always in a Tiz (Calvin Borel, 15-1); Verrazano (John Velazquez, 4-5); Go Get the Basil (Jose Ortiz, 30-1); and Freedom Child (Elvis Trujillo, 30-1).
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