For Verrazano part-owners Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan of Let's Go Stables, the last year has taken a storybook turn even they couldn't have predicted.
Sullivan, 36, and Scatuorchio, 31, who launched Let's Go in 2006, decided to inspire investors with a Derby Dreams partnership. They bought a group of 2-year-olds hand-picked by trainer Todd Pletcher, pedigree consultant Alan Porter, and veterinarian Scott Hay. With a budget for only six horses, they caught lightning in a bottle with a Derby entry their first year. El Padrino, a son of Pulpit and Enchanted Rock, took the stable to a 13th place finish in the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
Incredibly, the young owners are back again with another shot at the roses as Verrazano, a half-brother to El Padrino, has lead Derby early wagering pools and sits in the top ten on the points leaderboard.
For Scatuorchio, Verrazano's pedigree is particularly special — not only is he related to the same horse that brought Let's Go to its first Kentucky Derby, but he is by More Than Ready, who was owned by Scatuorchio's father, James.
“On a personal level, it's great to be able to enjoy those big days in racing with your family. Bryan and I have been fortunate to have a few of these races since we started the company. It's very enjoyable and I try to appreciate it,” said Scatuorchio.
When Scatuorchio and Sullivan attended the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale on the hunt for their next group of Derby Dreams contenders, Verrazano's pedigree made him an obvious interest for the group, and his large frame and solid conformation matched his assets on paper. Even so, he was one of a crowd of enticing prospects for the Let's Go team. But as the auction wore on, their favorite horses continued to sell above their budget.
“We waited around on a Speightstown horse that we really liked that went for $500,000 or $600,000. We waited for an Awesome Again that sold on a Thursday for $1.5 million,” recalled Sullivan. “You sit around waiting for these horses, and you don't think they're going to go for that much. We're not going to buy horses for the heck of buying, so we kind of have our limits.”
In the end, the group went home with Verrazano, a $250,000 purchase, and one other horse. Both went to Todd Pletcher's barn as 2-year-olds.
It seemed nothing was to come easily at first. Scatuorchio and Sullivan struggled to name the colt, and after trying several variations of El Padrino's name (which means “the godfather” in Italian), they settled on Verrazano, the bridge that connects Brooklyn to Staten Island.
After watching the horse in training, Pletcher recommended that the team give the large-framed colt time to mature before making his first start, and they started to lose hope that a horse could gain enough experience to make it to the Derby without a start as a juvenile.
“When you kind of give all that up and realistically don't get your first start until January 1 of your 3-year-old year, for me, I wasn't thinking Kentucky Derby. I was just thinking he's a nice horse,” said Sullivan.
But on New Year's Day, Verrazano broke his maiden in spectacular, 7 ¾-length fashion. A few days later, Scatuorchio and Sullivan sat down with Pletcher to decide if the Derby points system allowed them the time to qualify. After crunching the numbers, the team agreed that there was still time to let the colt develop, so they sent him to an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on February 2. He won by 16 1/4.
In the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby March 9, Verrazano took the lead under jockey John Velazquez and pulled away to score by three lengths.
“Getting a horse to the Derby is extremely difficult. So many times it's not the quality of the horse, or the ability or the talent. It's just the timing,” said Scatuorchio. “Just getting in that race is a feat in itself.”
“I never thought I wouldn't be back there, but I never thought I'd be back there next year,” said Sullivan of the group's second Derby runner in as many years. “The only difference between this year and last year for me is that I always thought El Padrino was a top class horse but I always thought he needed to get better. Some of the things [Verrazano] does in the morning and the afternoon, you rarely see horses do. It's nerve-wracking with this horse.”
Both partners agree that despite their young ages, they aren't afraid to compete against more experienced owners with larger operations in one of the world's most coveted races.
“To me, it doesn't matter who the owner is we're racing against. It's all about just trying to put our horses in the right spot to succeed,” said Sullivan. “I think the hardest thing for us is that we are young, and when you're trying to start a company, raise money to buy horses when you are young, people are a little skeptical.”
Although Scatuorchio and Sullivan usually call Pletcher's team weekly for an update on their runners, they say their calls to check on Verrazano are daily now that the first Saturday in May feels imminent.
“I'd like to move into the stall next to him since I'm down here,” said Sullivan from Florida.
“It really is lightning in a bottle, so to speak, with the success he's had so far.”
As Verrazano prepares for his run in the Wood Memorial on April 6, the young Let's Go Racing managers will just have to hope lightning keeps striking.
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