(From left to right) Kevin Scatuorchio, Jim Scatuorchio, Bryan Sullivan and jockey John Velazquez discuss Verrazano after his morning exercise in Florida. (Photo courtesy of Joe DiOrio)
Jim Scatuorchio enjoyed one of his greatest thrills as a Thoroughbred owner with More Than Ready, a multiple graded stakes winner who in 2000 gave him his first Grade 1 win in the King’s Bishop Stakes (G1).
More Than Ready retired from racing after his 3-year-old campaign in 2000 and went on to be a very nice sire in the both U.S. and Australia. Now, 13 years later, Jim’s son, Kevin, and son-in-law, Bryan, hope a dazzling but untested colt by More Than Ready will take them on another fantastic ride.
Verrazano will make his stakes debut on Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) for Let’s Go Stable, a racing syndicate operated by Kevin Scatuorchio and Sullivan, so the colt has quite a way to go to match More Than Ready.
But with two wins by a combined margin of 24 lengths, he certainly is daring Let’s Go Stable to dream big while conjuring up memories of his sire’s brilliant winning streak to start his career for Jim Scatuorchio in 1999.
VERRAZANO’S ROMPED IN HIS SECOND CAREER START
Courtesy of Gulfstream Park
More Than Ready opened his career with a dazzling string of victories for a young protégé of D. Wayne Lukas named Todd Pletcher, winning his first five career races by a combined total of more than 26 lengths.
With four stakes wins during the streak, including a 9 ¾-length romp in the Sanford Stakes (G2) at Saratoga Race Course, More Than Ready charged onto the Triple Crown trail as an exciting 2000 Kentucky Derby hopeful.
“As a 2-year-old there weren’t many horses that showed as much brilliance as More Than Ready did that summer in ’99. He was running away from fields,” Kevin recalled. “I remember at that time when I was working at [Monmouth Park], people would come up to me all the time and I never really understood the significance of it all.
“I clearly knew my father had a really good horse, a really fast horse, but it wasn’t necessarily something I had a full grasp of at the time.”
Kevin, now 31, was really just a kid at the time, albeit one who enjoyed the More Than Ready roller-coaster ride. He grew up 15 minutes from Monmouth and spent countless weekends at the racetrack – something both his mother’s and father’s sides of the family enjoyed. Kevin eventually worked summers during high school at Monmouth, where he watched the More Than Ready buzz build.
Bryan was courting Jim’s daughter and Kevin’s sister, Courtney, who also worked several summers at Monmouth. Bryan got his first taste of the sport a few years earlier when he went to the 1997 Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) with Courtney to watch a colt named Tale of the Cat, whom her dad raced as part of the Phantom House syndicate, finish fourth in Monmouth Park’s signature race.
“I had been maybe once before, but my first trip with [the Scatuorchios] was the year Tale of the Cat ran in the Haskell, and Courtney’s father was one of the managing partners of that syndicate,” Bryan recalled. “It was kind of surreal because it was so crowded that day at the track, and I guess I didn’t understand the magnitude of a race like that. It wasn’t until you realize how tough it is to own a horse like a Tale of the Cat or some of these nice horses and how lucky you are to participate in some of these big races. It’s really, really tough to do.
“Looking back on it now I realize that I was kind of spoiled with that being my first experience at the racetrack.”
BRYAN AND COURTNEY SULLIVAN AND THEIR THREE DAUGHTERS
Photo courtesy of the Sullivan family
By the time More Than Ready came along, Sullivan was fully infected with the horse racing bug. More Than Ready finished fourth in the 2000 Kentucky Derby before earning the breakthrough Grade 1 win in the King’s Bishop that summer at Saratoga.
“I’m very fortunate that Jim, Kevin’s father, as I was dating Courtney and we got more serious, he took me under his wing,” said Bryan, 36, who has three daughters– Jordyn, Riley, and Taylor – with Courtney. “He made sure that when he was talking to Todd [Pletcher] when he had More Than Ready and some of his early successes that Kevin and I were involved in many of those conversations.”
The experience gained from being included in Jim Scatuorchio’s racing interests planted the seed for his sons to pursue a career in the sport. They not only witnessed first-hand the development of top horses such as More Than Ready and champion English Channel but Kevin and Bryan also made the most of an opportunity to interact and pick the brain of one of racing true rising star trainers in Pletcher.
Kevin and Bryan soaked up as much knowledge about the industry as possible and eventually used what they learned to form Let’s Go Stable in 2006.
“Todd was great, we would go to the barn all of the time,” Bryan said. “We kind of felt like, hey, we know more than most of these guys coming into the game with the money at 40 and 50 and 60 years old and we’re 30 years old. And to have that knowledge was invaluable to us at such a young age.
“Jim is really responsible for getting us started. I don’t think he wanted us to do what we did, but that’s the way it ended up and we love working together.”
With a good foundation of experience and a business model Bryan and Kevin believed in, Let’s Go Stable began in 2006 with a group of investors that included quite a few friends that had little to no background in racing.
Let’s Go Stable quickly made believers of their initial investors.
Two of their first purchases were multiple graded stakes winner Glacken’s Gal and a talented More Than Ready colt, named Ready’s Echo, who finished in a dead heat for third in the 2008 Belmont Stakes (G1).
“That was big, that was our first syndicate,” Kevin said. “Ready’s Echo was purchased at the first yearling sale we went to in 2006. To purchase him, obviously a son of More than Ready again, and then go on to the Belmont [Stakes (G1)] where we dead-heated for third and running in a handful of graded stakes along the way, finishing second and third. … We made a good return for that syndicate and we also had another stakes winner named Glacken’s Gal, who is actually the dam of Live Lively, who just won the Davona Dale [Stakes (G2)].”
Bryan said the first syndicate returned 228% for Let’s Go Stable investors. The combination of racetrack success and profit brought most of them back for more.
“That partnership was really instrumental in us being able to generate a lot of interest for the following year,” Kevin said. “That was good for the investors that we brought in who had no experience in the sport - maybe about half of them. They were obviously thrilled with the outcome. We’ve had, I think since our first partnership, either four or five partners that have been in every one since.”
In addition to Glacken’s Gal and Ready’s Echo, Let’s Go Stable has since raced graded stakes winner Silent Valor and 2012 Risen Star Stakes (G2) winner El Padrino, who was unplaced in last year’s Kentucky Derby.
Jim Scatuorchio won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) with English Channel, who later was named champion turf male, and also raced Grade 1 winner Scat Daddy.
But perhaps no horse owned by the family has generated quite the buzz of Verrazano, at least since More Than Ready.
Purchased for $250,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale, Verrazano showed flashes of his immense talent even before he made his career debut. Verrazano’s morning workouts were so extraordinary that Pletcher, usually reserved in his praise of untested horses, told the Let’s Go team that they might be looking at something special, perhaps very special.
VERRAZANO DURING MORNING EXERCISE
Courtesy of Joe DiOrio
“I remember I saw him work in November before he even ran, and he was supposed to go an easy half in 49 [seconds]. It was his first half-mile work, and he shaded 46 [seconds] and galloped out in 59 [seconds], and he did it like it was the easiest thing in the world,” said Bryan, whose father, Greg, is an investor in Let’s Go Stable. “Todd doesn’t want horses to go that fast, but I remember at that time thinking, ‘Maybe we have something here.’ Then I remember three or four weeks later when Kevin and I were on a call with Todd and he told us, ‘This is a really, really, really nice horse.’
“Kevin and I were like, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard him talk like this about any horse that we’ve ever had.’ And then we talked to Jim, and he said, ‘I don’t think he’s ever talked like that about any of the horses I’ve ever had.’ ”
The type of magical brilliance More Than Ready showed early in his career is almost impossible to match, but Verrazano is proof that sometimes lightning does strike twice. He won his debut by 7 ¾ lengths in January at Gulfstream Park and his second start by 16 ¼ lengths in February, also at Gulfstream.
While Verrazano’s impressive start certainly conjured up memories of More Than Ready, it actually was the mental similarity between the two that Kevin recognized more so than the physical attributes.
“Physically, More Than Ready was not quite the stature of this colt,” he said, pointing out that Verrazano got quite a bit of size from his dam, Enchanted Rock, who also produced El Padrino. “I want to say the mind really reminds me of More Than Ready. Verrazano is a pretty smart horse, takes care of himself pretty well. He’s always interested in things, always looking around, very keen in that sense. More Than Ready was kind of the same way. Todd used to tell my dad how smart More Than Ready was and talk about the little things that would tip us off to how smart he really was. I think that’s something he definitely passes along to his progeny.”
The Let’s Go team also includes veterinarian Dr. Scott Hay, pedigree consultant Alan Porter and Todd Pletcher’s father, J.J., who handles the initial training – called breaking – of the stable’s young horses.
From the Scatuorchios to the Sullivans to the Pletchers to More Than Ready and his Derby hopeful son, there is no shortage of familial storylines when it comes to Verrazano. The next chapter of his tale is a key start on the Triple Crown trail Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Verrazano needs to accrue some points in the new system that determines which 20 3-year-olds will line up for the Kentucky Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Should he reach the starting gate for the first jewel of the Triple Crown, Verrazano would attempt to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old.
“It’s been surreal to a certain extent,” Bryan said. “It’s only been two races, an allowance and a maiden special weight, but what he’s done in this short amount of time is kind of freaky."