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Verrazano gets win at Tampa Bay Derby

OLDSMAR, Fla. (AP) - Verrazano survived a small stumble out of the gate to easily beat the field at the Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday.

The win helps solidify the 3-year-old as a legitimate Kentucky Derby favorite.

The 2-5 betting favorite passed Falling Sky before the half-mile mark and cruised to victory three lengths ahead of a late-charging Java's War. Falling Sky held on for third.

Verrazano, who remains undefeated on the year, covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.96, returned $2.80, $2.60 and $2.10.

Java's War, a 32-1 long shot, paid $14.60 and $8 while Falling Sky paid $4.60.

The exacta paid $43.20 and a 6-4-9 trifecta paid $282.20.

Despite being a heavy favorite, Verrazano was making his stakes debut on a difficult track he had never run.

``He definitely showed us that he can overcome an early stumble and deal with a little dirt in his face,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. ``We found out that he could travel well and handle two turns. All the things we were worried about he overcame them pretty well.''

With previous victories of 7 3/4 lengths and 16 1/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., Verrazano arrived at the track with high expectations.

After stumbling coming out of the gate on Saturday, Verrazano quickly went to the outside rail and battled with Falling Sky down the backstretch before taking a lead near the half-mile mark.

From that point on, the colt easily fended off all challengers and extended the lead heading into the final stretch.

Winning jockey John Velazquez said the horse cut himself a bit on the stumble, but settled down quickly.

``Down the backstretch I had a lot of horse and I just let him do his thing,'' Velazquez said. ``I asked him for something in the turn and he had as much as I thought he would.''

``We came away getting to the stretch and he was very strong running to the finish. It's too early to talk about derby rides, but this is a very special colt.''

Velazquez rode five winners at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, becoming the seventh jockey to accomplish that feat at the track.

Pletcher said that Verrazano's next race would likely be the Wood Memorial in New York, but the Florida Derby and the Arkansas Derby are also options.

``It was nice to get this one today,'' Pletcher said. ``We're happy he did everything we hoped he would and looked real strong out there.''

In the Grade III $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes betting favorite Old Tune, also trained by Pletcher, held off Forces of Darkness in a photo finish with Mystical Star finishing third.

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Mike Dempsey Mike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year round as well as Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the Triple Crown, and the Breeders' Cup.
The 2015 Triple Crown saw Mike correctly predict American Pharoah to win both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Mike nailed the Exacta and Trifecta in the Belmont Stakes.

Mike had a solid 2014 Triple Crown race season, correctly picking the winning horse in 2 of 3 races. He selected I'll Have another to win The Preakness, and nailed Union Rags to win the Belmont Stakes as his top pick.

Mike also had past succes in the Kentucky Derby, winning with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and rode his top picks, Super Saver and Street Sense, to the finish line in 2010 and 2007 respectively.

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Jerry Sessa Jerry "Shots" Sessa has been involved in horse racing for over 30 years. He now brings his meticulous handicapping style to When Jerry posts picks you are getting his best bets...when you win, he wins.
Jerry opened the 2016 Triple Crown season by hitting his Derby Day best bet, Nyquist. He also nailed the Derby exacta for a $30.60 payout. On 4/16/16 at Keeneland, Jerry hit an $819 exacta that led to a $38k Trifecta & a $300k Super.

In the 2015 Belmont Stakes Jerry dominated races 8-11 by hitting a $4,400 Pick 4, 3 Daily Doubles, 2 Pick 3's and calling American Pharoah as the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.

Jerry is always looking to repeat his 2012 Triple Crown success, when he selected the winning horses for The Preakness and The Belmont Stakes.

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