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Aqueduct Racetrack Notes - Apr. 7, 2013

By NYRA Press Office | 04/07/2013 03:05 PM ET
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Verrazano
PHOTO/Joe Labozzetta

  • Verrazano returns from G1 Wood Memorial victory in splendid order, Derby next
  • Brown pleased with Wood runner-up Normandy Invasion’s performance, leaves for Churchill Downs in one week
  • Mucous detected in Vyjack following third-place finish in Wood, remains on target for Derby
  • Close Hatches in fine fettle following G2 Gazelle victory; Mr Palmer exits Wood in good order
  • Zito reflects upon early days at Aqueduct the morning after winning G3 Bay Shore with Declan's Warrior

Undefeated Verrazano was a happy and hungry horse the morning after his gritty victory in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial, and is scheduled to depart next Sunday for Churchill Downs as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

“The horse came back in great order,” said Michael McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who now has won three of the past four runnings of the Wood, with Eskendereya (2010) and Gemologist (2012). “Everything is good.”

Owned in partnership by Let’s Go Stable, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith, Verrazano will carry a 4-for-4 record with him to Louisville. The More Than Ready colt broke his maiden on January 1 at Gulfstream Park, added a 16 ¼-length optional claiming victory there on February 2, and annexed the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 prior to his three-quarter-length win in the Wood.

“Looking at the race, he was waiting on horses and every time he was challenged, he answered the call,” said McCarthy. “It was a very good prep race. He got a lot out of it without doing too much.”

In addition to more than tripling his earnings to $861,300 and giving Let’s Go Stable its first Grade 1 win, Verrazano earned 100 points in the Derby qualifying system and with 150 total points shares the top spot in the standings with the Shug McGaughey-trained Orb.

Beginning with Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in 1930, 11 horses have completed the Wood-Derby double, most recently Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.


Trainer Chad Brown saw a lot to like in Normandy Invasion’s fast-closing second to Verrazano in the Wood. For the first time in his four-race career, Normandy Invasion started from an inside post position, and he responded well to a little bumping and racing in close quarters before angling outside at the top of the lane for a spirited drive home.

“I think he ran great yesterday, and he came out of the race good,” Brown said. “He did everything I expected him to do except win, but just short of that I thought he ran great.”

In his prior two starts, the Grade 2 Remsen last November and the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds, Normandy Invasion broke tardily and appeared to lightly clip heels each time. In the Wood, he got up into the race early, behind a slow opening quarter-mile of 24.89 seconds, and saved ground without getting trapped down on the inside.

“He had drawn outside every start in his career – 9 or 10 [post position] – and he finally drew inside and took advantage of it by saving ground,” Brown said. “I thought the horse broke clean out of the gate. He was able to lay closer to a slow pace than he had in the past. It really helped him. I think he learned a lot from it, and we learned a lot from the horse. He ran as we suspected. He doesn’t need to be that far away.”

Brown said Normandy Invasion would travel to Kentucky on April 14 to begin preparations for the Kentucky Derby and get work in over the Churchill Downs track. The question, however, remains, whether Javier Castellano will retain the mount or ride Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary for trainer Todd Pletcher.

“I’d like to retain him on the horse; we all would,” Brown said. “But, it’s going to be up to him and his agent, and I’m sure he’s going to monitor his two Derby mounts, their health and how they came out of their races before making a decision. We’re not applying any pressure right now. We’ll just see what they want to do.”


Vyjack, whose four-race winning streak at the Big A ended with his third-place finish in the Wood, returned from his efforts in good order save for some mucous detected in a post-race examination, said trainer Rudy Rodriguez.

“He came back good, he ate good, he walked good this morning,” said Rodriguez of the Pick Six Racing color-bearer. “There was some mucous when we scoped him, nothing bad. I don’t want to use that as an excuse. I’m proud of the way he ran.”

Rodriguez said the gelding will be treated with antibiotics for a few days and remains on target for the Kentucky Derby.

“It’s like human beings, we get a little cold for a couple of days,” said Rodriguez. “We’ll clean it up, we’ll check him out again, and move forward. He ran a good race against a good horse.”


In the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, both Close Hatches and Mr Palmer were reported to have emerged from their Wood Day races in fine fettle.

Grade 2 Gazelle victress Close Hatches is now undefeated in three starts and could be bound for the Kentucky Oaks, having earned 100 points for yesterday’s victory in the new qualifying system for the race.

“I thought it was pretty impressive,” Mott’s assistant, Leana Willaford, said of the Gazelle, in which Close Hatches dueled with a game Princess of Sylmar before drawing off to win by 3 ¼ lengths. “It was just her third start and she had to get in a little bit of a battle there after setting pretty good fractions. She ran great. I’m sure the Oaks would probably be on the radar; it seems that would be the natural progression. That’s obviously something Bill and Garrett O’Rourke, the Juddmonte [manager for United States operations] will have to decide. It seems like a logical choice as long as she comes out of the race good, and so far, she has. For the first day, she looks real good, she’s happy, and she ate well.”

Michael Lauffer and Gregory McDonald’s Mr Palmer, fourth in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, did not earn the points necessary to run in the Kentucky Derby, but Willaford said his connections were pleased with the performance.

“We’re real happy with him,” Willaford said. “He ran real well. There were some nice horses in there and he’s made kind of a steady and nice progression since he came up here last fall. He certainly didn’t embarrass himself or disappoint anybody. We’ll just wait and see how he comes out of this. We’ve got plenty of options – now that [the Derby] is off the schedule, you can kind of shop around with where to go. He looks like he should have a nice season ahead of him.”


Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito was in a reflective mood on Sunday, the morning after saddling Declan’s Warrior to a victory in Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.

Zito, a native of Manhattan who now splits his time between Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and Florida, said winning at Aqueduct is special to him because it inspires him to reflect upon his early days in horse racing when he worked for trainers Buddy Jacobson, Bob Lake, Johnny Campo, and LeRoy Jolley. Zito took out his trainer’s license in 1973 and gained prominence in 1990 when he won the Gotham and Wood Memorial at Aqueduct with Thirty Six Red, ridden by future Hall of Famer Mike Smith.

“For me, when I go to Aqueduct it brings back memories from when I first started," said Zito. "[Winning my] first Wood and Gotham, that launched Mike Smith’s career. New York has always been special to me, and Aqueduct, believe it or not. I always have a good feeling. That’s why I always watch the races downstairs [at Aqueduct] – that’s where I’d watch the races when I was a groom. I walked back and forth to the barn all day long, freezing. I have a little sore throat. I was yelling. There’s a lot of nostalgia there. It was really cool.”

Declan’s Warrior is owned by Zito’s wife, who races under the name Lucky Shamrock Stable, making the victory even more special for the 65-year-old trainer. Lucky Shamrock has been active since 2000.

“We’ve been breeding horses with Lucky Shamrock and family for I don’t know how many years,” said Zito. “Sometimes you got to wait for a horse like that. We’ve had a couple here and there, but nothing like this. We bred the mare back to Majestic Warrior before [Declan’s Warrior] won this race, so there will be a full brother or sister [to Declan’s Warrior].”

Zito was non-committal regarding Declan’s Warrior’s next start, mentioning a wide range of possibilities such as the Grade 3 Derby Trial on April 27 at Churchill Downs, the Grade 1 Preakness on May 18, and the Grade 2 Woody Stephens or Easy Goer on June 8 on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

“We’ll have to figure out something,” said Zito. “If he stays at that distance, we always have the King’s Bishop [on August 24 at Saratoga Race Course].”

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