More Than Ready colt Verrazano laid down the gauntlet to Wise Dan for USA Horse of the Year honours with a dazzling victory in the G1 Haskell Invitational (1800m) at Monmouth Park on Sunday.
Verrazano (3c More Than Ready – Enchanted Rock by Giant’s Causeway) sat outside G1 Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow in the early stages and then spreadeagled the field by next to 10 lengths in the straight.
It was the third Haskell victory for trainer Todd Pletcher and the biggest winning margin since his colt Bluegrass Cat scored by 7 lengths in 2006. His latest star is owned by Let’s Go Stable and Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith.
“He made a big statement today,” Pletcher said. “We’ve always had a lot of confidence in this horse. He’s very special.”
Verrazano will now head to the G1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga on August 24 where he will take on Triple Crown winners Orb (Kentucky Derby), Oxbow (Preakness Stakes) and Palace Malice (Belmont Stakes). Pletcher also prepared More Than Ready to a G1 victory in the 2000 King’s Bishop Stakes at Saratoga.
Verrazano and Orb are the only three year-olds to win two Group 1 races this year. The More Than Ready colt won the G1 Wood Memorial before an unplaced effort in the Kentucky Derby. The Run for the Roses has been his only loss in 7 starts since a winning debut in Florida on January 1.
Winning jockey John Velazquez claimed Pletcher’s colt made him look good. “He was awesome today,” Velazquez said. “He did it real easy. I knew I had a lot of horse left. When I asked him to go down the stretch, he did it.”
The Horse of the Year battle will hot up at Saratoga next month. Reigning champion Wise Dan will return to action in the G2 Fourstardave Handicap on August 10, a fortnight before the Travers Stakes.
Let’s Go Stable’s co-owner Brian Sullivan said the Haskell victory will make the rest of the year very interesting. “It will be a sprint to see who’s Horse of the Year,” he predicted. “I think we’re squarely within that picture.”
Champion sire More Than Ready returns to Vinery Stud next month for his next southern book in Australia. He will stand for a $99,000 (inc gst) service fee.
– Karl Patterson
VERRAZANO wins Haskell Invitational