Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Wood Memorial: Verrazano continues family tradition
Kevin Scatuorchio was still a teenager in May of 2000 when he watched his father’s horse, More Than Ready, slip through an opening along the rail as the field for the 126th Kentucky Derby turned into the stretch at Churchill Downs.
After what he remembers being “a really hot day, a really long day,” Scatuorchio, his father, Jim, family and friends “had something to cheer about” as More Than Ready battled with Wheelaway for the lead in upper stretch.
Though More Than Ready fought until the eighth pole, he couldn’t sustain his bid and finished fourth, six lengths behind Fusaichi Pegasus.
“You don’t typically feel great about running fourth, but that day we were thrilled with how he performed,” said Kevin Scatuorchio, who noted that More Than Ready raced close to one of the faster early paces in Derby history, “how he hung on and fought to the end. People, friends, family, and industry guys kept coming up to us and saying what an amazing race he ran.”
Thirteen years later, many of those same people have been amazed thus far by the exploits of Verrazano, a son of More Than Ready owned in part by Kevin Scatuorchio, 32, and his brother-in-law Bryan Sullivan, 36, who head the partnership Let’s Go Stable, which includes Jim Scatuorchio. Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, of Coolmore, purchased part interest in Verrazano after his maiden victory.
After winning his first three races impressively, Verrazano – named by Kevin Scatuorchio after the bridge that connects Brooklyn with Staten Island – could stamp himself as the Kentucky Derby favorite when he runs against the undefeated Vyjack and likely seven others in Saturday’s $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
“It’s exciting,” Sullivan, who is married to Kevin’s sister Courtney, said Sunday after watching Verrazano work out in Florida. “This is where you want to be when you’re in this game. When you get to this point with these Grade 1’s, it gets a little nerve-wracking, but we’re trying to take it day by day, stay grounded, and hopefully we keep moving forward.”
Scatuorchio and Sullivan formed Let’s Go in 2006 and have about six partners per horse. Let’s Go has yet to win a Grade 1.
Verrazano is a half-brother to El Padrino, a horse Let’s Go purchased as a yearling in 2010 as part of its “Derby Dreams Fund.” El Padrino, who won the Grade 2 Risen Star, finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby and has run just once since.
“To me, the difference between this year and last year was we thought El Padrino was a really nice horse – and he was – but I think we knew we needed to get a little bit better to compete with Union Rags,” said Sullivan, referring to the Derby favorite. “This horse, I just hope he stays the way he is.”
Verrazano did not race at 2, owing to shin issues that prompted trainer Todd Pletcher to pull the plug on his training in late May after the colt twice breezed three furlongs. He did not hit the work tab again until November after he arrived in Florida.
On New Year’s Day, Verrazano won his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream by 7 3/4 lengths, running the distance in 1:16.48 and earning a 93 Beyer Speed Figure. On Feb. 2, he won a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream by 16 1/4 lengths, running a mile in 1:34.80 and earning a 105 Beyer Figure. Five weeks after that, Verrazano tried two turns for the first time, winning the Tampa Bay Derby by three lengths over a surface he didn’t particularly like.
“One thing Johnny [Velazquez] told us after Tampa Bay was he never handled the track one step out of the gate,” Sullivan said Tuesday during a national conference call. “He won without handling the track. That kind of tells you something.”
Sullivan has been friends with the Scatuorchio family for years. He attended all of More Than Ready’s races and believes Verrazano inherited his sire’s temperament.
“He’s got a great mind, and I think he gets that from More Than Ready,” Sullivan said. “He sleeps a lot. He’s a really good-minded horse. That’s one of the intangibles you need when you go down this road.”
Verrazano was the only colt Let’s Go purchased as a yearling in 2011. The outfit also bought a More Than Ready filly, named Harborinthetempest, who won only two lower-level claiming races before being claimed by Linda Rice.
According to Kevin Scatuorchio, most of the yearlings he and Sullivan wanted to buy were purchased for too much money. Verrazano sold for $250,000 and has proven to be a bargain.
“There are not many horses like Verrazano in the crop,” Scatuorchio said. “He kind of stands out just on his natural ability and his running style. He’s not a horse that needs to be on the front end necessarily, and he’s not a horse that has to come from out of it. He’s not going to be off the pace very much because he’s naturally so fast. I think that keeps us separated from the group as a whole.”
More Than Ready won the first five races of his career, which came within a 110-day span. If Verrazano wins the first five races of his career, it will include the Kentucky Derby and have come within the first 124 days of his racing career, albeit as a 3-year-old.
If he makes it to Churchill, Verrazano will attempt to become the first horse not to race at 2 to win the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882.
Sullivan said that was a topic of discussion between him, Scatuorchio, and Pletcher in early December. There was a six-furlong race at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 19 for which Verrazano was eligible, but Pletcher wanted to run him at seven furlongs to start. His debut actually was run at 6 1/2 furlongs.
“At some point, it’s going to be broken,” Sullivan said. “Obviously, we’d like to do it. I don’t think if we don’t win the Kentucky Derby I’m going to say it’s because we didn’t run nine days earlier.”