PEGASUS STAKES | PURSE: $150,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 3 | 1 1/16 MILES
In the first major stakes for 3-year-olds following the Triple Crown, favored Verrazano was a romping winner of the $148,500 Pegasus Stakes June 16 after his main challenger, Itsmyluckyday, was pulled up on the Monmouth Park backstretch.
The concern was for Itsmyluckyday, the Preakness Stakes runner-up one month ago, who was racing on the outside in the field of five midway down the backstretch when jockey Mike Smith pulled the 6-5 second choice out of the race. Smith said afterward that he felt the son of Lawyer Ron was off in his left hind and he pulled him up as a precautionary measure.
"It felt like a left hind. He actually broke really sharp and was just about to go up to press [front-running] Verrazano and I felt something behind," the Hall of Fame rider said. "I wasn't going to take a chance and decided it was better to be safe than sorry so I just took the cautious road."
Itsmyluckyday, a local favorite among the record 28,951 in attendance for the Father's Day feature, was taken back to trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.'s stable for further examination.
Kelsey Plesa, the trainer's daughter, reported that X-rays taken on Itsmyluckyday showed no fractures. Itsmyluckyday is to be transferred to a local equine hospital for a pelvic scan.
Verrazano, breaking from the rail as the 2-5 pick under John Velazquez, stepped an opening half mile in easy splits of :24.82 and :48.75 and was in control by 2 ½ lengths as Gefest, Itsmyluckyday, and Reporting Star lined up behind him.
But after Itsmyluckyday dropped out, Verrazano steadily built his advantage as he traversed six furlongs in 1:12.67. Verrazano had no threats after rounding the far turn, building his lead to six furlongs mid-stretch. He came home under a long hold in a solid final time of 1:41.72 while an official 9 ¼ lengths lengths in front of runner-up Reporting Star.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Verrazano was making his first start since struggling over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs and finishing a disappointing 14th in the Kentucky Derby. It is the only loss in six starts for the Wood Memorial winner who was expected to be a major force during this year's Triple crown series.
Plans call for Verrazano to return to Monmouth for the $1 million William Hill Haskell Invitational at 1 1/8 miles July 28.
"I think we got exactly what we wanted to set us up for the Haskell," said Brian Sullivan, a partner in Verrazano's ownership team, Lets Go Stable. "I think it makes the next six months interesting with a sprint to see who's Horse of the Year. I think we're squarely within that picture. He'll train at the Spa [Saratoga Race Course] and bring him back for the Haskell."
The son of More Than Ready, a $250,000 Keeneland September yearling buy in 2011, is co-owned by Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith. Emory Hamilton bred the bay colt out in Kentucky out of the Giant's Causeway mare Enchanted Rock. Verrazano is a half brother to 2012 Risen Star Stakes winner El Padrino.
"It feels good to have him back," said Velazquez, who has ridden Verrazano in each of his races. "There didn't look to be that much speed on paper at all. I talked to Todd this morning and he said just to come out running and make them chase you. His ears were wagging every step of the way and around the three-eighths pole I gave him a little nudge, and he knew it was time to go."
Verrazano, who also won the Tampa Bay Derby earlier this spring, increased his earnings to $951,300.
"That was exactly what we were looking for," said Anthony Sciametta Jr., assistant to Pletcher. "It's a shame about Itsmyluckyday, you don't want to see that. I just hope he's okay. We'd rather have had a race on our hands."
"Todd said he'd been training great and he showed that today. He leaves tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. for Saratoga."
Verrazano, carrying top weight of 123 pounds, paid $2.80, $2.20, and $2.10 while keying a $45.40 exacta. Reporting Star, ridden by Angel Serpa, finished 4 ¼ lengths clear in second and returned $9 and $10. Bethel, with Brian Pedroza aboard, was third, paying $13.20. Gefest trailed.
Itsmyluckyday, a five-time winner of $825,600 in 12 starts coming into the Pegasus, won both the Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull Stakes prior to a runner-up finish in the Florida Derby. Like, Verrazano, he struggled in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 15th for owners Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa.