Haskin's Derby Report: Give Verrazano a Break

Never before have I seen an undefeated Kentucky Derby favorite so maligned after having won a race. Following Verrazano’s three-quarters of a length victory in the Wood Memorial over proven stakes horses Normandy Invasion and previously unbeaten Vyjack, many on the colt’s bandwagon began jumping off, and many who wanted to wait for the Wood before hopping on, said, “No thanks.”

I’ve heard about deserting a sinking ship, but never deserting a ship still afloat and on time toward its destination.

I’m not saying Verrazano is going to win the Kentucky Derby, and I’m not about to dissect his performance in the Wood other than to say he did show a new dimension regarding the ability to settle off the pace, and he did come home in splits of :23 4/5, :24, and :12 3/5, which not only are strong, but are fractions you see from late closers.

When you look at him next to other horses, he looks like Hercules next to mere mortals.

What I find surprising about all the criticism is that the majority of them are based on the narrow margin of victory and slow time (slow pace makes for slow time), and the overall conclusion that the colt’s so-called superstar status was exposed.

My reply to that is, so what? Since when does it take a superstar or a spectacular effort in the final prep to win the Kentucky Derby? What good did it do Bellamy Road and his 17 1/2-length victory and 120 Beyer figure in the Wood Memorial?

If there is one thing history has taught us, it’s that Sigmund Freud’s comment, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” can also apply to the Kentucky Derby trail. Sometimes a prep is just a prep.

Just as a reminder to those who have now dismissed Verrazano as a potential Kentucky Derby winner, take note of past Derbys.

In 2006, Barbaro was undefeated and the 8-5 favorite in the Florida Derby. However, he hooked up in a stretch duel with the 6-1 Sharp Humor and was all out to win by a mere half length. He came back and romped by 6 1/2 lengths in the Kentucky Derby, with Sharp Humor struggling home in 19th.

In 2010, Super Saver was the 8-5 favorite in the Arkansas Derby, but was beaten a neck by 17-1 longshot Line of David. Super Saver went on to win the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/2 lengths, while Line of David finished 18th, beaten more than 60 lengths.

In 2007, Street Sense was even-money in the Blue Grass Stakes, but was beaten a nose by 8-1 Dominican. Street Sense captured the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/4 lengths, while Dominican finished 11th, beaten nearly 18 lengths.

In 1996, Grindstone was 8-5 in the Arkansas Derby, but was beaten a neck by 11-1 Zarb’s Magic. Grindstone came back to win the Kentucky Derby with a furious late rush, while Zarb’s Magic finished 13th, beaten 17 lengths.

In 2001, Monarchos was 4-5 in the Wood Memorial, but was beaten nearly three lengths by the lightly raced Congaree. Monarchos went on to win the Kentucky Derby 4 3/4-lengths, running the second-fastest time in Derby history.

In 1992, Lil E. Tee was 2-1 in the Arkansas Derby, but was beaten a neck by Pine Bluff, Lil E. Tee won the Kentucky Derby by a length, with Pine Bluff finishing fifth, beaten 7 1/4 lengths.

In 1995, Thunder Gulch finished a dull fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes at 6-5, but came back to win the Kentucky Derby by 2 1/4 lengths at odds of 24-1. Wild Syn, who won the Blue Grass by 2 1/2 lengths, finished last of 19 in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 45 lengths.

In 2005, Giacomo finished fourth at 7-2 in the Santa Anita Derby behind 30-1 Buzzard’s Bay, but bounced back to win the Kentucky Derby by a half-length at 50-1, while Buzzard’s Bay finished fifth, beaten 6 1/4 lengths.

In 1994, Go For Gin was 4-5 in the Wood Memorial, but was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Irgun. Go For Gin came back to win the Kentucky Derby by two lengths, while Irgun was forced to withdraw with a foot injury.

Going back to 1975, Foolish Pleasure was 1-2 in the Wood Memorial, but was all out defeat 12-1 shot Bombay Duck by a head. Foolish Pleasure came back to win the Kentucky by 1 3/4 lengths, while Bombay Duck finished last of 15.

There are a number of instances in which horses turned the tables on the horse who defeated them in the final prep. Unbridled turned the tables on Summer Squall, who defeated him decisively in the Blue Grass. Funny Cide turned the tables on Empire Maker, who defeated him in the Wood Memorial. Ferdinand turned the tables on Snow Chief, who easily defeated him in the Santa Anita Derby. Genuine Risk turned the tables on Plugged Nickle, who defeated her in the Wood Memorial.

So, the point I’m making is, don’t dismiss a proven top-class horse in the Kentucky Derby just because he was beaten in or narrowly won his final prep, regardless of how unimpressive you think he looked. Remember, the vast majority of the horses mentioned above were heavy favorites in their final prep and were defeated or nearly defeated by horses far inferior to the horses Verrazano defeated in the Wood.

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