OCEANPORT — Who is the best 3-year-old thoroughbred in the country?
Famed trainer Todd Pletcher believes it's his horse, Verrazano, especially after Verrazano's dominant and performance Sunday in the Haskell Invitational.
"He made a big statement today," Pletcher said after Verrazano romped to a 9¾-length victory Sunday in the $1 million William Hill Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. "He's as impressive as there is with the 3-year-olds right now."
The margin was the largest in Haskell history, easily topping Bluegrass Cat' seven-length win in 2006.
Sent off at even money, Verrazano allowed Preakness winner Oxbow to set the early fractions in a slow pace. Oxbow, sent off as the second choice at 5-2, led through the half-mile mark with Verrazano a half-length back.
"I didn't want to make it too easy for Oxbow, but I didn't want to make a premature move with my horse," said winning jockey John Velazquez. "He didn't break well, but we made up some room."
The two stakes winners went head-to-head for 200 yards, then Verrazano pulled away from a fading Oxbow and stormed home in 1 minute, 50.68 seconds.
It was Pletcher's third winner at the Haskell and Velazquez's second win at the race. Pletcher previously won consecutive Haskells with Bluegrass Cat and Any Given Saturday. Velasquez also rode Bluegrass Cat to his dominant win.
"He was awesome today," Velazquez said. "He did it real easy and made me look very good. He was going so good. I knew I had a lot of horse left. When I asked him to go down the stretch, he did it."
Power Broker, ridden by Rosie Napravnik and trained by six-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert, finished second. Baffert was attempting to win the Haskell for the fourth straight time. Micromanage, also trained by Pletcher, finished third and Oxbow faded to fourth.
Verrazano, winner of $1.5 million, has won six times in seven starts, including a win in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth on June 16. Verrazano's lone loss came in the Kentucky Derby, where he faded to 14th overall.
"He's been a very special horse, with the exception of the (Kentucky) Derby," Pletcher said. "He had a good prep on this course. We always had a lot of confidence in this horse. He's very special."
Pletcher said that he plans to take Verrazano back to Saratoga for the rest of the summer.
"The Travers is something we have to look at," Pletcher said.
The Travers Stakes will be held at Saratoga on Aug. 24, a race that could feature all three winners of the Triple Crown events — Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Preakness champion Oxbow and Belmont winner Palace Malice — and now Verrazano, which should decide the best 3-year-old thoroughbred in 2013.
Verrazano paid $4.20, $3.20 and $2.10. Power Broker returned $4.80 and $3.60, and Micromanage paid $4 to show.
Also, heavy favorite Take Charge Indy broke stride in the backstretch in the $200,000 Monmouth Cup on Sunday, sustaining a left front condylar fracture that will require surgery.
Take Charge Indy was the 3-5 favorite with Hall of Famer Gary Stevens aboard and seemed to be putting the race away when he took a bad step in the back stretch with a three-length lead, forcing Stevens to ease him.
"I heard a loud pop around the half-mile pole," Stevens said. "He wanted to continue, but I pulled him up."
Former Kentucky Derby entrant Pants on Fire won the race and paid $16.20. Paco Lopez rode the winner.
Eight-year-old gelding Immortal Eyes won the $100,000 Teddy Drone Stakes as the 3-5 favorite. Immortal Eyes, with Paco Lopez riding, won for the third straight time on the Monmouth dirt course.
Irish-born Starstruck, with Rosie Napravnik aboard, won the $150,000 Matchmaker Stakes and New Jersey-born Napravnik took her second stakes race of the day, winning the $200,000 Molly Pitcher on Joyful Victory in impressive fashion, pulling away to win by 7½ lengths.
In the $100,000 Regret Stakes, long-shot Geeky Gorgeous emerged from the pack in the final strides to pull the upset with Joe Bravo aboard. In the $150,000 Oceanport Stakes, Silver Max put away the field down the stretch with Robby Alvarado aboard.