Race of the Week 2017

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Head Heart & Hooves

Undefeated Pletcher Derby Horse...Sound Familiar?

While reflecting on the Wood Memorial, I realized that Verrazano's career up to this point closely resembles that of last year's Wood winner, Gemologist. Both are Todd Pletcher-trained Wood Memorial winners who take undefeated records to Churchill downs. The question is, can Verrazano fare better than Gemologist did there? 

Gemologist began his career in late September at Turfway Park. He broke his maiden at first asking in a $22,000, 6 furlong maiden special weight. About 1 month later, Gemologist won a $48,000, 8.5 furlong allowance optional claiming race at Churchill Downs. After another month, Gemologist was sent to a Grade 2: the Kentucky Jockey Club. Gemologist ran the 8.5 furlongs in 1:44:46 – for reference purposes, that was 3.42 seconds off the track record. 


Verrazano began his career in January, three months later than Gemologist. He broke his maiden at first asking in a $52,500, 6.5 furlong MSW at Gulfstream Park. Like Gemologist, he next was entered in and won an allowance optional claiming race. Verrazano, however, remained at Gulfstream for that 8 furlong, $54,500 race. Verrazano was then given a one-month break prior to competing in an 8.5 furlong Grade 2: the Tampa Bay Derby. He ran the 8.5 furlongs in 1:43:96, 1.13 seconds shy of the track record.


Through the first three races of their careers, Gemologist and Verrazano were handled similarly. However, Gemologist was debuted much earlier, racing three times in his 2-year-old season before receiving a planned 4-month break over the winter. Verrazano was not raced as a 2-year-old, but debuted January first of 2013. Like Bodemeister last year, Verrazano will attempt to buck the trend of Kentucky Derby losses by horses unraced in their two year old seasons.


Verrazano winning Wood Memorial


Gemologist made his 3-year-old debut in an 8 furlong March allowance race at Gulfstream Park, which he won in 1:35:95. For comparison's sake, Verrazano won his 8 furlong spring allowance race at Gulfstream in 1:34:80. As for the Wood Memorial, Gemologist won in 1:50:96, coming home in 13:22. Verrazano won in 1:50:27 and came home in 12:55.  


While comparing times a year apart does not necessarily produce valuable data, Verrazano has shown himself to be faster than Gemologist throughout his early career. He has been more heavily favored in his starts, and deservedly so. While this bodes well for Verrazano, other factors do not. He is from female family 13-d, which has not produced successful Derby colts in the past. He is also out of the same mare, Enchanted Rock, as El Padrino, yet another Pletcher trainee and not a classic distance horse.


Overall, Verrazano has more going for him than Gemologist did last year. As such, he is poised to be the deserving favorite (Gemologist was the third choice). However, he had a very nice trip in the Wood and did not look like he was about to hold off Normandy Invasion.  He will not only be a better price than Verrazano, but looks better-suited to handle 10 furlongs due to his breeding and the ground he was gaining in the Wood.  While Verrazano's season has been very impressive thus far, taking a short price on a Kentucky Derby favorite in a year with a very solid crop of three year old colts is not a wise proposition.


(Very) Brief Derby Top 5

At this moment, I like the three closers: Orb, Revolutionary, and Normandy Invasion. Vyjack looks like a very gritty horse who may be a slight notch below others; both he and Oxbow have the look of horses who can be used underneath. Black Onyx interests me also, but the synthetic prep was slow.


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Older Comments about Undefeated Pletcher Derby Horse...Sound Familiar?...

Mary Z: All I am saying is that, to me, he looks better-bred to get the distance. Yes, he is by Tapit, but he is from tail female family 1-c, as was Grindstone. He has a point in the “solid” category of his dosage as well (for whatever that is worth...). Verrazano is from TFF 13-d, which has never produced a Derby winnder. Much more importantly, NI really looked to me like he would have run past Verrazano given an extra furlong. He closed into a very slow pace. He didn't appear to have much trouble, just not much of a pace setup. Personally I prefer at least 2 other horses to these...
  • head_heart_hooves · For comparison, avg. winning distance for V's sire/damsire is 7.52/8.45. AWD for NI is 8.29/7.60. Very close, with a slight edge to V. Tapit has had 3.9% of progeny successful in stakes at classic distances; More Than Ready only 2%. While all this is nice and interesting, what's more important is what I saw in the Wood and what I'll see in the odds columns next to these 2 on Derby day... Thanks for reading and commenting, Mary! Questions are good. · 1691 days ago
I agree Normandy cant go 10 furlongs, Verrazano can. Closers also need good trips and Normandy seems to find troubled trips
Normandy Invasion has a better distance pedigree than Verrazano, Alex? How so? I'd have to think much more about including the mostly always late Normandy Invasion for the Derby win.
Alex, I enjoyed reading your in-depth comparisons between the two. I for one remain on the Verrazano "bridge" as he has done nothing but move forward, in fact I liked the way he closed in the Wood. He remains top. Hope you will make periodic comments on horses/races from across the pond too!
  • head_heart_hooves · Thank you! It's a busy time, of course, but I will certainly comment on high-profile overseas meets... assuming I have something constructive to offer! · 1692 days ago
Both good picks
after learning from JV's interview that both Verrazano and ORB are very talented horse, so these two horses are my top selections?
wow Brian you and I are on the same page with this group of horses, it is always nice hearing an expert express my thoughts on paper.

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Meet Alex Fawell 

Unlike many, I did not grow up with horseracing. My first time at the races was the 2008 Kentucky Derby. I bet on Colonel John. That fall, I had the good fortune to go to England, where I visited Ascot and Kempton. When I returned to the U.S., I was hooked. I started reading handicapping books, studying historic sire lines, watching races and going to Portland Meadows regularly. While the purses there were small, I was able to be close to the action and see firsthand the day-to-day operations of an average American racetrack.


Last year I moved home to Chicago. I went to Arlington for the first time this year. In the interim, I have devoted my time to understanding all aspects of horseracing  I hope to provide unique isights on handicapping perspectives and multifaceted analyses on the state of horseracing today. I will strive to write with an open mind and a willingness to learn through the writing process. I will not claim to be an expert, but I will read thoroughly, write carefully, and be honest.


To me, the all-time greats are Kelso, John Henry, Round Table and Yeats. Horses I like because they have won me money include Raven's Pass, Alternation, and I'll Have Another. The greatest horse I have even seen live is Zenyatta. I also enjoy the Bears, the Bulls, the White Sox, the Blackhawks, Mexican food, good Bourbon, and old-time music - specifically that played on the 5-string banjo. Thanks for reading!

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