By Jessica Tugwell (@starryday93 on Twitter)
Vino Rosso began his career with a debut win at Aqueduct last November, where he was sent off as the 9/5 favorite. Unlike many first-time starters for Todd Pletcher, Vino Rosso had to be hustled out of the starting gate by jockey John Velazquez, then he stalked outside of horses about three lengths off the lead early on. With a bit of encouragement, he began to move up, engaging with the leaders while running three wide around the 3/8ths pole. As they came out of the turn, Vino Rosso was on even terms with the leader, and he put that rival away inside the eighth pole to win by 2 ¾ lengths at the wire.
He returned in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs on December 22nd. He raced close to a slow pace of :50.06 and 1:14.42, made a bid on the turn and took the lead under his own power, and was ridden out by John Velazquez to win by 2 ½ lengths.
His first try in stakes company would come in the Sam F Davis Stakes. He stalked in the dead center of the compact field, with horses on all sides. As the horses around him began to move up approaching the half mile pole, John Velazquez began to ask Vino Rosso for more run, but Flameaway, Catholic Boy and Septimius Severus had three lengths on him entering the turn, and even track announcer Mike Battaglia noted that he was, “under an all-out ride, at this point not responding.” As Flameaway and Catholic Boy dueled out the victory, Vino Rosso slowly began to get underway, not really hitting his best stride until about a hundred meters from the wire, where he managed to finish just 1 ¼ lengths behind the winner. His momentum carried him out past the wire in front. He came back in the Tampa Bay Derby, where he added blinkers for the first time. Despite getting good position, he never produced a bid in the race and finished a disappointing 4th beaten by six lengths.
Todd Pletcher sent the St Elias Stable and Repole-owned colt to New York for the Wood Memorial, where he finally lived up to his potential. He sat mid-pack early while being gently encouraged by Velazquez to secure better position. He was three wide in 4th at the quarter pole, still chasing runaway leader Old Time Revival, who had seven lengths on the nearest competitor. He began a bold four wide move as they entered the turn, hitting the front in tandem with favorite Enticed. As they entered the stretch run, Vino Rosso had the lead but began drifting in and the pair bumped twice in quick succession. Enticed battled on gamely, but Vino Rosso put him away at the sixteenth pole and drew off to win by three lengths in his final Derby prep with his ears pricked at the finish.
Vino Rosso is by Curlin, a multiple G1 winner at ten furlongs and already the sire of two classic winners – Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, – so there’s no question that there’s plenty of stamina on the top side of his pedigree. He’s out of the Street Cry mare Mythical Bride, giving him another dose of stamina from that stallion. Mythical Bride is a half-sister to the A.P. Indy colt Commissioner, who was a G2 winner at ten furlongs and finished second in the 2014 Belmont Stakes. Vino Rosso’s second dam, Flaming Heart, is herself by Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold. There’s no question that this colt is bred to run all day.
Vino Rosso is an improving colt who has shown versatility and the ability to overcome obstacles in a race. He looks like the sort of horse who will only improve with added distance. However, a Wood Memorial winner has not won the Kentucky Derby since Funny Cide in 2003, and it’s unclear exactly how the New York horses stack up against those coming from elsewhere in the country; Enticed was defeated by 14 ¾ lengths by Audible in the Holy Bull Stakes, while Free Drop Billy (whom Enticed defeated in the Gotham) defeated four lengths by Good Magic in a relatively slow edition of the Blue Grass Stakes in his final Derby prep.
That said, Vino Rosso is a horse that should not be discounted. He will be closing at the finish, and while there may be questions about his class compared to some others in the field, I expect that he will continue to improve with every start, as his sire did in the spring of his three-year-old season. It’s debatable whether he is on the level of his peers at this point, but he’s proven that he can handle a roughly run race like the Derby, and should be comfortable regardless of where he ends up. It’s also worth noting that John Velazquez opts to ride Vino Rosso, despite being aboard both Audible and Noble Indy for both of their victories in their final Derby preps. He posted a bullet work of 4f in :47 1/5 in his final workout for this race, and seems to be sitting on a career-best effort. He’ll need it in order to win this race, but I think he could be worth a win bet at his 12-1 morning line odds or better, and definitely needs to be included in any vertical wagers.
photos by Holly M. Smith (@kyholmarie on Twitter)