Florida Filly: Let’s face it. Verrazano has done almost nothing but win since beginning his career on New Year’s Day. He has won sprinting. He has won stretching out to middle and route distances. Toss out his two attempts at getting the classic distance of a mile and a quarter and you have a perfect record. Clearly this is a colt that knows how to win and relishes standing in the winner’s circle. Speaking of knowing how to win, a little bird told me that this is something Goldencents has clearly forgotten how to do. With six wins from 8 career races, it is really hard to find something not to like, especially heading into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
ZATT: Verrazano reminds me of that big school bully. He loves to beat up on his competition, until he encounters competition as strong as him. Then, with tail between legs, he prefers to throw in the white towel. Say what you will about the distance of the Derby and the Travers, but let’s face it, he wasn’t going to win those races even if they were a few furlongs shorter. Not only do I expect him to find the competition in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to be more than he wants, but as a clear favorite, I say no thanks. It looks like a wide-open, and good betting race to me, but one I know I like better is another three-year-old, Goldencents.
Florida Filly: Even though Verrazano got a late start, he has been absolutely dazzling since first hitting the track. In his six wins, he has an average win margin of 7.8 lengths, and he has won by as much as 16 ¼ lengths in an optional claimer. After that allowance win, Horse Racing Nation’s very own Brian Zipse stated, “We have found the first brilliant horse of this foal crop, and his name is Verrazano.” Yes, you read that right. It says Verrazano, not Goldencents. After just two races, Verrazano was able to successfully compete and win in Kentucky Derby prep races, something you don’t always see with “late blooming” colts.
ZATT: He can be brilliant, and if this race were a match race, I’d like his chances, but it’s not. I’m looking for a horse instead who is battle tested, proven at the tricky one-mile distance, is in form, and who I know will like the main track at Santa Anita. All of which are qualities that can be attributed to Goldencents. While Verrazano is licking his wounds from a Travers disappointment, and found the Dirt Mile as a fallback race, Goldencents has been pointing to the race for a long time. Running strong efforts against the fastest older horses on the West Coast during the summer and into the fall, should have the son of Into Mischief razor sharp on the first Saturday of November.
Florida Filly: Verrazano not only matured quickly and caught up with his age group in hardly any time at all, but he has also shown levelheadedness that benefits him greatly. The son of More Than Ready has plenty of speed, but he is not a colt that shoots straight to the lead and tries to run as fast as he can for as long as can and hopes it’s enough. He has shown the ability to closely stalk a torrid pace and draw away, dictate his own terms, or stalk a reasonable pace and still win commandingly.
ZATT: Actually of the two, I prefer the tractability of Goldencents. He has run well on the lead, from a stalking position, and from far back. In other words, he is a tough son of a gun, who can run his race from anywhere. Speaking of anywhere, I have to believe that Verrazano, a horse that has never run a good race away from the East Coast, is at a disadvantage at Santa Anita. He may or may not like the trip and the track, but we already know Goldencents loves it, as evidenced by his Santa Anita Derby win, and his recent second in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. Also keep in mind, that Goldencents is a graded stakes winner at this exact trip, having easily accounted for the Sham Stakes earlier this year.
Florida Filly: His running style isn’t such that it will get him in trouble. He won’t contest a hot pace but can still be right up there with the pacesetter and not tire when his rival gets leg weary. If the pace is reasonable, he will still be right there at the front ready to pounce as the field turns for home. If there’s no one to run at, then he’ll just do things his own way. For him, it’s win-win-win, especially since Santa Anita tends to favor this run style. Goldencents races very similarly to Verrazano, but while the latter has won six of eight, the former has won only four of eleven. Compound that with the fact that Goldencents has developed a severe case of seconditis recently, and I’ll take Verrazano every time.
ZATT: You say seconditis, I say tough and battle tested. In running three consecutive strong second place finishes against highly capable older horses, Goldencents has learned what it is going to take to do well in the Dirt Mile. Clearly he is in form, and remember, none of those races were his end goal. Doug O’Neill should have him ready to fire his best shot when it counts, and those experiences should do him a world of good. Frankly, I’m not sure that Verrazano is the horse that could stand up against all these tough races. Goldencents seems to thrive on them. Meanwhile, I am dubious of what Verrazano does in his first try against a salty field of veteran campaigners. His record may be 6-for-8, but it is also 0-for-2 when really looked in the eye. He will be looked in the eye again in two weeks.
Florida Filly: Along with being able to adjust his running style, Verrazano has also shown that location doesn’t matter. He has raced at six different tracks during his short career and won at four of those tracks. He has yet to make the trek across the country or race in California, but he gives every indication that this will not be a problem. Goldencents may have home field advantage because he calls California home, but that fact won’t give him an edge over Verrazano, even if it does in regards to the rest of the field.
ZATT: Yeah, we disagree on this. Even if everything goes perfectly for Verrazano in his trip, acclimation, and his liking for the track, the advantage still goes to Goldencents, who only needs to step out of his stall and onto a track that we already know he appreciates.
Florida Filly: Don’t let Verrazano’s 7th place last out finish fool you. Distance was clearly the deciding factor in the Travers, and the speedy colt was only beaten by 7 lengths. Certainly not a horrendous finish for a distance he doesn’t like. Since then, trainer Todd Pletcher has put him back into training and has gradually been increasing the distance and intensity of his works. He has been training well, and his most recent work was a bullet 5 furlong move in 1.01:08 (best of 14). Todd Pletcher knows how to train for and win the big ones, as evidenced by his 7 Breeders’ Cup wins, so you can rest assured that Verrazano will be primed to fire his best come the first weekend in November. Conversely, camp Doug O’Neill doesn’t seem to know what to do with Goldencents these days.
ZATT: It didn’t fool me at all, I expected him to be nowhere near the leaders at the finish. The one thing that did surprise me a bit, though, was the fact that even at the quarter-pole (after running one mile, which is, not so coincidentally, the same distance as the Breeders’ Cup race we were talking about here), you could tell that he had about as much chance as a baked halibut did of winning the Travers. Goldencents, on the other hand, continues to be right there in with a chance in all of his California races. And I would contend that the O’Neill camp knows exactly what they are doing with him. Now battle tested, he is running in a race that I believe he was born to run. Not only has he proven to have the excellent speed to stay in this race early, but he has also proven to have the stamina needed to finish off the eight furlong. Just look how he kicked home over this track in both the Sham and the Santa Anita Derby after contesting the early pace.
Florida Filly: Verrazano not only has a great trainer in his corner but he also has history there, as well. Of the six winners in the history of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, three of them won utilizing a run style similar to that of Verrazano. Additionally, five of the six lost the race prior to their Dirt Mile triumph. Goldencents also enters the Dirt Mile off a loss, but again, I like Verrazano’s chances better.
ZATT: I think you are grasping for straws a little there, Ashley. Both horses are coming in off a loss, but obviously, I much prefer Goldencents’ performance to that of Verrazano. As for the race set up, I think there is one horse that is much more likely to throw in the towel after being on or near the lead against a bunch of tough hombres, and his name is not Goldencents.
Florida Filly: Goldencents is clearly a nice colt. He would have to be in order to have wins at racing’s top level. But to use Brian’s words against him (again), brilliant defeats very nice 9-out-of-10 times. Brilliant is exactly what Verrazano has been in his short career. In three less starts, he has recorded more wins, more decisive wins, and more graded stakes wins. There really is no comparison. Verrazano is your Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile winner.
ZATT: Goldencents is a very nice colt, and a very good Californian miler, but I am not as sure about this race as you are. If I had to pick one horse today to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, he would be my lukewarm choice over several others I believe to be in with a chance. The one thing I know for sure, is that I will not be backing Verrazano. He just has too many question marks to pick as a race favorite.