Verrazano, an awesome equine bridge between balance and size, was bred to run. Heading into the 139th Kentucky Derby, that part is undeniable. Bryan Sullivan is another story. He still chuckles when he thinks about that day 16 years ago at Monmouth Park.
Oh, Sullivan knew what he liked that day. He liked Courtney Scatuorchio. But who among the horses did he like to win the 1997 Haskell Stakes?
"I'm not sure I even knew a horse had four legs at that point," Sullivan said Thursday from Louisville. "I was so green. I had no idea of the magnitude of that race."
Sullivan understands plenty now. Thoroughbred racing is nothing if not a study in bloodlines. And with Let's Go Stable co-owning one of the Derby favorites, Sullivan knows that Verrazano, the son of More Than Ready out of the Giant Causeway's mare Enchanted Rock, must stand the ultimate test for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs.
"Everything comes easy to Verrazano," Sullivan said. "I also know it won't be easy Saturday."
Bloodlines run deep in the big story of a big horse. Bloodlines, in fact, run though Verrazano's ownership. Sullivan had gone to the Haskell in 1997 with Courtney to cheer on Tale of the Cat, her dad Jim part of the Phantom House syndicate that owned the horse that finished fourth.
Sullivan's from Monmouth County in Jersey. He considered attending Boston College and Providence. One of his good buddies growing up chose Fairfield. That was a factor in him heading to Connecticut, too.
"I had a great time at Fairfield," said Sullivan, who majored in political science and graduated in 2000. "I grew up playing competitive soccer and tennis and actually chose not to play soccer at Fairfield, which in hindsight was probably a mistake."
One of the legends of Fairfield through the years has been the 100 university-occupied beach houses on Long Island Sound. They have hilarious names like the Albino Frog and the Naked Mormon. Sullivan stayed at the Frozen Shamrock.
"I loved it," Sullivan said. "I know the storms haven't been too kind to it."
It must have been a decent time. His younger brother Casey followed Bryan to Fairfield. There are more state ties. Sullivan's mom's sister, Paula, lives in East Hartford. His mom's brother, Peter LeClair, lives in Putnam. One of his stable's investors, Dave Walsh of Wilton, doesn't own a piece of Verrazano, but he did own a piece of El Padrino, Verrazano's half-brother, who ran in the 2012 Derby.
Bryan met Courtney when he was a senior in high school and she was a freshman. They didn't start dating until she was a senior and he was at Fairfield. Courtney went on to Boston College. They would be married in 2005.
"We've been together for ages," Sullivan said.
As the years went on, he grew closer to Courtney's brother Kevin. After working at a hedge fund for a number of years and with Kevin getting out of college, they started thinking about all they had learned at the track. Jim Scatuorchio had success, but he wasn't crazy about his two boys diving into a tough, tough game. Still, in 2006, they decided to make a go of it.
"I've put a lot of hard work into this, but I give all the credit to what I know to Todd Pletcher and his dad, J.J., and obviously my father-in-law," Sullivan said. "He took Kevin and me under his wing the last 15 years. Now, it's to the point where he's the one who asks us questions. He's the one who gave us the opportunity. I can't be thankful enough for what he has done."
If Bryan and Jim were more than ready to get into the game, it's undeniable that More Than Ready plays an integral role in the story. Yes, he's Verrazano's father. But the horse, owned by Jim Scatuorchio, also played a big role in launching Pletcher's career and helped give birth to what Sullivan calls "the family business."
"I remember being at the 2000 Derby for More than Ready and being sick to my stomach the entire time," Sullivan said. "To this day, it is the longest day of my life. Waiting for the horses to load in the gate, playing "My Old Kentucky Home," everything, the magnitude of it all, the butterflies went crazy. I was overwhelmed."
Through the years, Jim had Scat Daddy and turf champion English Channel. He has won at the Breeder's Cup. Let's Go Stable did have El Padrino last year and Ready's Echo, who finished third in the 2008 Belmont. They've run in Dubai.
Bryan Sullivan, at 36, isn't green anymore
"You learn to anticipate how you are going to be," he said. "But when you get into this game, this is what you want. You want the butterflies. You want the biggest races."