Stakes winners usually get more publicity than allowance and maiden winners, and that was certainly the case over the weekend with the stellar victories by Flashback and Revolutionary.
However, the No. 1 star was not the Robert B. Lewis champion (Flashback) nor the Withers hero (Revolutionary). It was a non-winners of one allowance winner by the name of Verrazano.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Verrazano destroyed a field of five at Gulfstream Park this past Saturday winning by 16 1/4 lengths while running the mile in exactly 1:34 4/5.
The 1-5 favorite sat second for the first half-mile, just as he did when he broke his maiden on New Year's Day. The January foal then flew past the early pacesetter and quickly opened a 6 1/2-length lead with only a furlong remaining. He almost tripled that lead in the final eighth of a mile while under a hand ride from jockey John Velazquez.
Verrazano is now 2-for-2, winning both races by a combined 24 lengths. What's interesting to note is the horse who ran second in his initial race, Acclaim, came back to win his next start on Jan. 27. In addition, Gunderman, the third- place finisher in this past Saturday's race, finished second to the highly regarded Bradester in his prior outing and defeated the third horse, Cerro, by almost five lengths. Cerro, if you remember, won his next start on the Holy Bull undercard.
Some pundits might knock Verrazano because a Kentucky Derby victory would break the Apollo Jinx: No horse that did not start as a 2-year-old has won the Derby since Apollo in 1882.
Nevertheless, a few horses have come close. Just last year, Bodemeister would have taken the first two legs of the Triple Crown had it not been for I'll Have Another. Two years ago, Nehro only had one start at 2 (on Dec. 12) and he finished second to Animal Kingdom.
Moreover, Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) and Big Brown (2008) both made just one start as a 2-year-old. The former hit the track on Dec. 11, while the latter ran just once between Sept. 3 and March 5.
Sooner or later, the Apollo jinx will fall and after Verrazano's latest performance at Gulfstream Park, it might come crashing down sooner rather than later.
The most important question involving Verrazano is whether he can handle the 10 demanding furlongs of the Kentucky Derby.
His sire, More Than Ready, ran fourth to Fusaichi Pegasus in the 2000 Derby. However, he was not known as a distance horse despite a sire line that produced two Derby winners in the 1980s. Still, as I wrote a few weeks ago, five sprinters/milers have sired Derby winners over the past 11 years.
In addition, it is usually the dam side that gives horses stamina. Given that, let's take a look at Verrazano's dam side. His mother, Enchanted Rock, has produced one other foal, El Padrino, who ran 13th in last year's Kentucky Derby. Nevertheless, her sire Giant's Causeway had no problem running 1 1/4 miles.
Verrazano's third dam, Too Chic, ran second in the 1 1/4 Alabama Stakes in 1982. She produced a pair of solid daughters in Queena, the 1991 Eclipse Award winner as older filly or mare, and Chic Shirine, the dam of Enchanted Rock.
One of Enchanted Rock's sisters, Flying Passage, produced the multiple graded stakes-winning mare Hungry Island while another sister, Tara Roma, won the 1 1/4-mile Ladies Handicap in 1994.
Finally, Mayan Maiden, a third sister of Enchanted Rock, is the granddam of Al Khali, who won the 11-furlong Bowling Green Handicap on the Belmont Park turf and finished second to Point of Entry in last year's 12-furlong Sword Dancer Invitational.
Given all that, one can expect Verrazano to have no problem winning at 10 furlongs, especially if he maintains his current form.
SATURDAY'S STAKES RESULTS
Bob Baffert has been high on Flashback for quite some time, but due to a missed workout in late December, the gray colt had to miss the Jan. 5 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.
After 56 days on the shelf, Flashback returned to the track in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Racing on dirt for the first time, the $260,000 purchase easily defeated three rivals while winning by 6 1/4 lengths.
Flashback crossed the wire in 1:42 4/5 for the 1 1/16-mile race after running his first six furlongs in 1:12 and the mile in 1:36 2/5. It was a workmanlike performance but without the pizzazz I'll Have Another displayed when that colt prevailed in the Robert. B. Lewis last year.
The one positive was the fact he crushed stablemate Den's Legacy, a horse who had finished only 1 1/2 lengths behind Goldencents in the Sham and 3 3/4 lengths in back of Violence in the CashCall Futurity.
On the negative side, another Baffert 3-year-old, Tiz the Truth, broke his maiden earlier on the card while running his mile a tick quicker (1:36 1/5) than Flashback did.
The jury is still out on how good Flashback is or can be, but luckily for Baffert, this year's crop doesn't seem to be a strong one outside of Verrazano.
The other important 3-year-old stakes event this past weekend was the Withers Stakes in New York. Revolutionary, trained by Pletcher, got the best of Escapefromreality in the final strides to win by a neck. It was two lengths back to the Jerome runner-up, Siete de Oros.
Mired on the inside in last or next-to-last for much of the race, Revolutionary kicked into high gear after being stuck behind rivals through the stretch to win at 3-5 odds. Nonetheless, his speed figure came up on the slow side so improvement must come before he can match strides with the upper echelon colts.
FIRST FUTURE WAGER
Don't forget, the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool will be held on Feb. 8-10. There will be 23 single entrants and the rest of the horses will be lumped in the field.
I fully expect the first 10 of my Dirty Dozen to be single entrants. Other probables include Oxbow, Falling Sky, Bern Identity, Frac Daddy, Delhomme, Dewey Square, Den's Legacy, Vyjack, Power Broker, Dynamic Sky, He's Had Enough, Will Take Charge and Mylute.
As of early February, the only horses I think who have a realistic chance to win the Kentucky Derby are Verrazano, Normandy Invasion, Flashback, Violence, Itsmyluckyday and Overanalyze. When betting the first Future Wager make sure the odds of your key selections are higher than what they might be on Derby Day. Otherwise, hold onto your money until later in the spring.
THE JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Verrazano - Moves right to the top after devastating win
2) Normandy Invasion - Will have two starts before Derby
3) Flashback - Easy win versus little in Robert B. Lewis
4) Violence - Lost in the shuffle after Verrazano's victory
5) Itsmyluckyday - Florida Derby next for Holy Bull winner
6) Overanalyze - Continues to prep for the Gotham Stakes
7) Shanghai Bobby - Questionable at Derby distance
8) Goldencents - San Felipe at Santa Anita is next
9) Revolutionary - Solid win in Withers despite low Beyer
10) Uncaptured - Still a month away from first 2013 start
11) Palace Malice - Has license to improve
12) Orb - A stakes appearance is on the horizon