Oceanport, NJ — In a race that featured this year’s Preakness winner and the Kentucky Derby runner-up, it was Verrazano, a horse who didn’t even place in any of this year’s Triple Crown races, who stole the show in the Haskell.
“He made a huge statement,” said Todd Pletcher, Verrazano’s trainer. “This was one of, if not the most, impressive performances by any 3-year-old this year.”
The usually stoic Pletcher could be heard, near the edge of the Monmouth Park dirt track, shouting, “c’mon Johnny,” imploring Verrazano’s jockey, John Velasquez, to bring home the even-money race favorite.
“He was incredible today,” said Velasquez, who positioned Verrazano behind Oxbow, who had won the Preakness going wire to wire on an unpressured lead.
“It seemed like the first quarter went slow (today) and I was like, ‘you know what, let me put a little bit of pressure on him just to make him exert a little bit,” Velasquez said.
The mild pressure put on by Verrazano turned into an all-out assault midway on the turn, as Verrazano pulled away from Oxbow and the rest of the field. Verrazano and Velasquez would end up devastating the competition late, winning by a Haskell record 9 3/4 lengths.
“It was instant too. When I asked him, he was right there,” said Velasquez.
Going into the Kentucky Derby, one of the knocks on Verazzano, an undefeated colt at the time, was that he hadn’t beaten any quality horses en route to winning his first four career starts by a combined 28 lengths. He gave doubters more ammunition to question is ability when he flopped as one of the favorites, finishing 14th on a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby.
However, it was later revealed that Verrazano had suffered a severe gash on his left hock. He sat out the Preakness and Belmont before returning in the G3 Pegasus last month at Monmouth. He won that race by more than 9 lengths.
Verrazano’s performance in the Haskell should position him once again as one of the top 3-year-old’s in the country and, this time, his connections (Pletcher-Vleasquez- Let’s Go Stable) can also point to the likes of Oxbow and Golden Soul (Kentucky Derby runner-up) as some of the horses Verrazano has now downed on his way to winning six of seven career races.
Next up for Verrazano is The Travers, the featured 3-year-old race of the prestigious Saratoga Summer meet. He’s expected to face Palace Malice, who won the Belmont Stakes and also took the Jim Dandy at Saratoga this past weekend, as well.
So, once again, doubters will undoubtedly ask, ‘can he compete with that level of competition?'”
“I don’t see why not,” said Velasquez. “The only concern with him has been the slop, with the way he ran at Churchill Downs. But he hasn’t done anything wrong after that.”
Verrazano backers were rewarded with the light tote payouts of $4.40, $3.20 and $2.10. Bob Baffert trainee, Power Broker, overcome an awkward start to finish a game second, in front of third place finisher, Micromanage.
Report compiled and written by DanonymousRacing
Check out our Haskell Invitational Photo Diary for some of the horses, people and moments that left their mark on the the summer’s premiere race at Monmouth Park!