One long-standing piece of Kentucky Derby history is that Apollo, in 1882, is the only horse to win the classic for 3-year-olds without also having raced as a 2-year-old.
Apollo would lose that distinction Saturday if Verrazano, an unbeaten colt who began his career at Gulfstream Park, wins this year’s Kentucky Derby, where he is one of the favorites.
Verrazano, trained by Todd Pletcher, did not race until Jan. 1, the day when all thoroughbreds born in North America in 2010 became 3-year-olds for racing purposes.
He won his six-and-one-half furlong debut in the stretch run by almost eight lengths with John Velazquez riding him.
“We had planned to race him last summer at Saratoga, but he had some shin problems,” said Kevin Scatuorchio, one of the owners of Verrazano, on Thursday by phone from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
“We expected all along that he had some very good potential,” he said.
“But on New Year’s Eve and even after that first race, there was no way we would have been thinking that he was a horse who could be the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.”
Since New Year’s Day, Scatuorchio has been on hand to see Verrazano win a one-mile Gulfstream allowance, the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) at Tampa Bay Downs and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York.
Scatuorchio, who lives in Red Bank, N.J., is a partner in Let’s Go Stable.
Let’s Go and Coolmore Stud, based in Ireland, own Verrazano.
Verrazano is the only Derby entrant who did not race at age 2, but he will join Orb and Goldencents as likely favorites in Saturday’s 1 ¼ mile race.
Orb, trained by Shug McGaughey, won the 11/16-mile Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) and the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby (Grade 1) at Gulfstream.
Goldencents, trained by Doug O’Neill, won the Santa Anita Derby (Grade 1) at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
On Wednesday afternoon, Churchill Downs will hold the post position draw for the Derby.
As of Tuesday, Churchill Downs expects a full field of 20 horses, and 12 of those either raced at Gulfstream during its race meet that ran from Dec. 1 to April 5 or trained at Gulfstream or elsewhere in South Florida during that period.
A review of Kentucky Derby records indicates that the 12-horse count is a South Florida record.
Eight of those horses raced at Gulfstream this season. The 2012 and 2010 Kentucky Derbys also had eight Gulfstream horses.
In 2011, the Kentucky Derby had 10 horses that had raced at Gulfstream.
South Florida’s warm and dry winter climate is the main reason for the Gulfstream-to-Louisville connection, according to Gulfstream president Tim Ritvo and trainer Ken McPeek, who has two horses in Saturday’s race.
“We didn’t invent the winter weather, but we have built on it with a program and stakes schedule that the trainers and owners like for 3-year-olds,” Ritvo said.
McPeek has Derby entrants Java’s War and Frac Daddy,
Java’s War finished second in the Tampa Bay Derby and won the 1 1/8 mile Bluegrass Stakes (Grade 1) on April 13 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
Frac Daddy finished second in the Arkansas Derby (Grade 1) at Oaklawn Park on April 13.
“Both are looking as good as ever, and I would not be surprised if either of them wins,” McPeek said.
Two other Kentucky Derby horses that trained in South Florida but did not race at Gulfstream also won stakes races at other tracks. Overanalyze won the Arkansas Derby, and Revolutionary won the Louisiana Derby in New Orleans on March 30.
Both are trained by Pletcher, who has five horses in the Kentucky Derby field. For the most part, he has kept his contenders apart until that race.