|Palace Malice before the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April, in which he finished 2nd.|
The 1-1/8 mile Jim Dandy Stakes (Gr. II) at Saratoga had a field of Triple Crown warriors, as well as a few that bypassed that brouhaha altogether. The latter included Code West, who had won the Matt Winn (Gr. III) at Churchill Downs on June 15. Palace Malice proved that his win in the Belmont Stakes was no fluke and took the Jim Dandy under a strong hand ride from Mike Smith. Per trainer Todd Pletcher, he will be pointed towards the Travers Stakes (Gr. I) at Saratoga on August 24.
|Code West before the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs in June.|
Also run at 1-1/8 miles, the Haskell Invitational Stakes (Gr. I) at Monmouth Park had shaped up to be the race of the weekend. Also featuring several Triple Crown warriors, the field included Preakness Stakes (Gr. I) winner Oxbow, Verrazano (winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes (Gr. I)), Vyjack (winner of the Gotham Stakes (Gr. III)), and Golden Soul (2nd in the Kentucky Derby (Gr. I)).
Verrazano had finished a disappointing 14th in the Kentucky Derby after chasing the suicidal pace set by Palace Malice. He returned to the races June 16 in the Pegasus Stakes (Gr. III) at Monmouth Park, facing Itsmyluckyday (2nd in the Florida Derby (Gr. I) and Preakness Stakes). A contest between the two horses never manifested, as Verrazano cheerfully seized the lead and ran away to a 9-1/4 length win. Itsmyluckyday was pulled up on the backstretch and later diagnosed with a pelvic fracture.
As I've liked both Verrazano and Oxbow since their debuts, I wasn't sure who I wanted to win the Haskell. Oxbow is as tough as they come, but when Verrazano is good, he is very, very good, and nothing less than a runaway train can stop him.
As he had in the Preakness Stakes, Gary Stevens guided Oxbow to the lead as Verrazano settled into a stalking position behind him. The veteran jockey is a master on the lead, but would it be enough? I carefully watched Verrazano and noted his loose ears and clean, free stride. Then I saw it--his rider, John Velazquez, glancing under his arm. He had a lot of horse and was waiting for the right moment to let Verrazano go!
At the half-mile mark, Stevens glanced over at Velazquez as Verrazano pulled alongside Oxbow. Power Broker, Rosie Napravnik up, then made his bid for the lead. It was happening! My husband grabbed my arm as Velazquez told Verrazano, "Go." The big dark bay colt moved forward smooth as silk and goosebumps rolled over my skin. His ears relaxed in the wind, Verrazano moved to a comfortable lead then, under urging from Velazquez, opened up a greater lead with no discernable effort, winning by a record 9-3/4 lengths.
As of today, he's officially earned a 116 Beyer for the race, and trainer Todd Pletcher says Verrazano will also point towards the Travers Stakes, which is very exciting. Unfortunately, Oxbow suffered an ankle injury in the Haskell and will be sidelined for an undetermined time. I hope to see him return to the races later in the fall.
You can watch Verrazano's performance in the Haskell Stakes here or below.