Forget the answers, Todd Pletcher knows the questions.
"We'll have to answer all those Apollo questions," Pletcher said, after describing Verrazano's debut Jan. 1 and his projected route to Churchill Downs. Indeed, the undefeated Wood Memorial favorite broke his maiden on New Year's Day. If he gets to the Kentucky Derby, he'll be attempting to become the first horse who hadn't started as a 2-year-old since Apollo to win the Derby. That was in 1882.
Verrazano is this year's Bodemeister.
Inside the eighth pole of last year's Derby, Bodemeister had the eraser out, then I'll Have Another reeled him in and gave Apollo another year in the sun. Verrazano is poised to keep Apollo in the line of questioning this year, at least before the Derby. There's a good chance, it will be the last year of Apollo's prominence.
Verrazano, owned by Let's Go Stable, Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith, dominated a 6 ½-furlong maiden at Gulfstream Park Jan. 1, returned to win an allowance race by 16 ¼-lengths and then disposed of eight rivals in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby March 9. He drew stall 8 in the field of 10 in Saturday's Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Verrazano takes on undefeated Vyjack, who's won all four career starts for trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
Pletcher dismisses the Apollo rule.
"That will be the next one to fall and maybe this will be the horse to do it," Pletcher said Thursday. "We were close to making a race, I think it was on December 19, but we felt like another gate work was appropriate. If there was a race in the book in between, he would have been ready for that one. I can't imagine if he ran a day before he did, it could have made any difference. He's come a long way in a short amount of time, and we're hoping for more of the same."
Verrazano uses natural speed to establish a stalking spot in his races and then simply overpowers anything he's faced thus far. He has made his own seasoning, with three facile scores at increasing distances in a span of nine weeks. He should be able to establish the same style in the Wood.
"He's got good natural speed, but at the same time, he's not been on the early lead in any of his three races, he's been able to stalk at least one horse for a little while," Pletcher said. "I think he's kind enough that as long as there's an honest pace in front of him, he can sit behind someone. If they're crawling along, it's not going to happen. He's a bg, scopey, strong horse, with a good mind to go along with it."
Pletcher went to Keeneland September hoping to like the half-brother to El Padrino, who had run well for Pletcher and Let's Go at Saratoga earlier in the summer.
"He was basically on our radar screen before we got to the sale because he was El Padrino's little brother," Pletcher said. "He had been showing us promise, he ran a good race in his debut at Saratoga. He was a horse we wanted to like and we were happy to leave there with him."
Let's Go Stable sent $250,000 to Keeneland and Pletcher sent Verrazano to his father J.J.'s training center in Florida. The big, bay colt came to Pletcher at Saratoga in the spring and breezed a couple of times, nothing more than 3 furlongs before sore shins interrupted the program. Pletcher sent him back to Ocala where his shins were pin-fired and a 3-year-old campaign became the goal.
"My dad liked him a lot early on and we decided with a big, growthy colt that we would be conservative. We felt like with a big colt like that, there was no rush, the Let's Go guys are patient, we felt like we would give him plenty of time," Pletcher said. "We picked him back up when we got back to Palm Meadows and he hasn't looked back."
Pletcher was confident Verrazano would run well in his debut and would progress into a nice horse. Did he see him as the undefeated Wood Memorial favorite and the number one seed on everybody's Derby bracket?
"I don't think I woke up on the morning of January first, thinking that by April we would have the future book Kentucky Derby favorite, that's just not something you see very often, but at the same time, I can't say I'm shocked," Pletcher said. "We thought we had a really good horse and we expected him to go there and perform really well. How he trained, who he trained with were all good indications that he was capable of doing some serious stuff."
Perhaps, eliminating Apollo as the go-to question...at least for 2014.
Watch Verrazano's Tampa Bay Derby win.
Watch Vyjack's Gotham win.
Watch last year's Derby.
- In other Pletcher news...
Revolutionary. "He's got a different running style (than Verrazano), settle back and make one run. Different types all together, but very similar results."
Capo Bastone. "We're probably going the grass route with him."
Palace Malice. "We are hoping to run him back in the Blue Grass and hope we have better racing luck than in the Louisiana Derby."
Overanalyze. "To the Arkansas Derby."
Zaikov. "He actually got some shins so we sent him back to Ocala, we'll probably see him at Saratoga. He's very talented."