A big weekend for Pletcher

July, 28, 2013
At about the same time as Verrazano kicked into high gear at the top of the stretch in the Haskell, the wild scramble for the 3-year-old championship took on a new and rather orderly complexion.

After different horses captured the three legs of the Triple Crown, it figured to be the job of the important summer and fall classics to settle the matter, and Verrazano surely promises to be a monstrous presence in that dicey process of sorting out the best of the best.

Verrazano didn't just win the $1 million Haskell on Sunday, he absolutely dominated it. While an injury to Preakness champ Oxbow may have played a role in the huge gap between the son of More Than Ready and the rest of the field, Verrazano nevertheless crossed the wire 9 ¾ lengths ahead of Power Broker in the most lopsided of the 46 editions of the Haskell.

Power Broker, at least, did not have his feelings hurt by playing a bit role in a virtuoso performance.

"[Power Broker] ran a good race," his trainer Bob Baffert said. "I think he thinks he won. I don't know if he ever saw Verrazano go by. We were a little overmatched today. The 6-5 favorite's victory was even powerful enough to have his normally tight-lipped trainer, Todd Pletcher, utter some rather lofty praise.

"[Verrazano] made a huge statement today. That was one of if not the most impressive performance by a 3-year-old this year, and I can't think of too many 3-year-olds who have ever run like that," said Pletcher, who should know a thing or two about good horses, having won the Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer on five occasions.

As darkness fell on Monmouth Park on Sunday evening, the road to a championship seemed destined to run through Pletcher's massive barn.

Pletcher also trains another rather good 3-year-old by the name of Palace Malice. He merely won the Belmont Stakes at 13-1 odds in June and on Saturday he substantiated it by taking the Jim Dandy at Saratoga in his first start since the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Together they give Pletcher the strong hand he'll need in a race that might also include Kentucky Derby winner Orb and could provide some closure to the race for an Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old male.

Oxbow, who was fourth as the 3-1 second choice in the Haskell, suffered what was diagnosed as a soft tissue injury in the race and the immediate status of the 15-1 Preakness winner is uncertain.

Yet as darkness fell on Monmouth Park on Sunday evening, the road to a championship seemed destined to run through Pletcher's massive barn.

Palace Malice, based on his Belmont win, should have no trouble with the 10-furlong distance of the Travers.

Verrazano may be the more brilliant of the two, but he has never won beyond Sunday's mile-and-an-eighth distance. In his lone try beyond nine furlongs, he was 14th in the Kentucky Derby, a race contested on a sloppy track that may have compromised his chances.

On Aug. 24 in the Travers, if all goes well, we just might find out if it was the distance or mud that bothered Verrazano on the first Saturday in May -- and the answer could unlock a championship.

"The plan all along was to run in the Haskell and if [Verrazano] showed he could handle distances of 1 ⅛ miles plus, the Travers would be a logical next spot. The way he finished today over a track that's been deep and demanding all week with his ears pricked at the wire showed he handled it pretty well. Those of us who've been around this horse have always had a lot of confidence in him and anyone who knows him isn't really surprised by what they see."

Seeing is indeed believing and based on this weekend's Haskell and Jim Dandy, the muddled race that seemed to be between Orb and Oxbow after two-thirds of the Triple Crown has a couple of new pacesetters.

Whether they can hang on is the question begging for an answer, and that just might come at a place known as "The Graveyard of Favorites."

Given the surprises in the Triple Crown, it seems an all together fitting venue.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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