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Verrazano pulls away with Velazquez aboard to win Haskell Invitational

VERRAZANO Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: John Velazquez Last

Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: John Velazquez
Last three: 1-1-1
Post: 14
Odds: 4-1
Unbeaten star proved he could handle a challenge in stretch of Wood Memorial. Yet because he got a perfect setup stalking a slow pace, many thought he should have won by more than three-quarters of a length. Still hasn't done anything wrong and hasn't been fully extended, but lack of 2-year-old experience is reason for concern. | Credit: AP

OCEANPORT, N.J. -- There never were any questions about Verrazano's talent, only about how far he could carry his brilliant speed. On Sunday at Monmouth Park, he left no doubts.

The sleek bay colt tracked Preakness winner Oxbow's rather slow pace before blowing open the 11/8-mile, $1-million Haskell Invitational. When John Velazquez decided to move leaving the three-eighths pole, Verrazano ended any suspense, cruising to a 9¾-length runaway, a stakes record.

"I don't know how it could have gone any better," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who on Saturday watched his Belmont Stakes champion, Palace Malice, cruise in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga. "I felt pretty good going into the first turn that he was handling the track. It was pretty self-explanatory from about the half-mile pole."

Verrazano bobbled slightly leaving the outside post in a field of seven before moving into second to press Oxbow down the backstretch. Oxbow still led by a head for Gary Stevens after 6 furlongs in 1:12.68, but it was only a matter of when, not if, for Verrazano.

Velazquez felt confident he could take control at any time. "I didn't want to make any premature moves on the backstretch," he said. "We had the perfect trip. He was going so good the whole way, and when I asked him, it was instant."

After Verrazano ran off the TV screen, trainer Bob Baffert's Power Broker held on for second under Rosie Napravnik. Six lengths farther back, Mike Repole's Micromanage won a three-way photo for third over Oxbow and Pick of the Litter.

Stevens eased Oxbow after the wire, and state veterinarian Dr. Deborah Lamparter said X-rays were taken of the colt's right ankle. "It is my understanding that there were no fractures and that it was likely a soft tissue injury."

Even after Verrazano improved to 4-for-4 April 6 in the 11/8-mile Wood Memorial, he didn't create much buzz during Kentucky Derby week. When he faded to 14th behind Orb in the slop, many reached this verdict: very fast, but probably best at a mile. When he returned June 16 with a 9¼-length romp in a 11/16-mile stakes at Monmouth, it still didn't change many minds.

"We've always had a lot of confidence in this horse," said Pletcher, who called the 1¼-mile Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 at Saratoga "a logical next step. With the exception of the Derby, he's always been impressive. I couldn't be more thrilled by what he did today. He made a huge statement, one of if not the most impressive by any 3-year-old this year."

Verrazano was timed in 1:50.68 and paid $4.20 for his sixth win in seven starts. He earned $600,000, raising his total to $1.5513 million for Let's Go Stable, Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith. Pletcher's third Haskell victory broke Baffert's three-race streak with Paynter, Coil and Lookin At Lucky.

"I don't know if Power Broker ever saw Verrazano go by," Baffert said. "We were a little overmatched today."

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