Late last February, the aspirations Bryan Sullivan and Kevin Scatuorchio had when they founded Let's Go Stable in 2006 were beginning to converge auspiciously.
With their flashy chestnut colt El Padrino fresh off a win in the 2012 Grade II Risen Star Stakes, the stable was in the position of not just having a 3-year-old on the Kentucky Derby trail, but one of the top-ranked sophomore runners at that time.
It was one of those moments where things couldn't get much better. And it was right about then that the father of their future Hall of Fame trainer gave them the heads up that another dramatic upturn could be coming their way.
"It was probably a week after El Padrino had won the Risen Star, and J.J. (Pletcher) had just started breezing our 2-year-olds and I remember him telling me, 'This More Than Ready colt (Verrazano) is better than (his half-brother) El Padrino,'" recalled Sullivan, who manages Let's Go Stable with Scatuorchio. "I was like, 'Jake, El Padrino just won the Risen Star and he was No. 3 or 4 on the Derby Watch. Are you sure?'
"I didn't know if it was good or bad news because it's tough to get two brothers to both be really good. Did that mean El Padrino isn't going to be really good? So I didn't want to hear it to a certain extent."
Where El Padrino went on to become a Kentucky Derby starter finishing 13th last season, his half-brother Verrazano has yet to even run in a stakes race. But in two career starts, Verrazano has launched Let's Go Stable back into the Derby frenzy at a pitch his older sibling never approached.
On a weekend that featured a trio of Derby prep races, the fifth race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 2 almost overshadowed them all as Verrazano snatched breath away with his 161/4-length victory going a mile over the main track.
"As he began to open up you kind of sit there and say 'Did I just see that?'" Sullivan said.
Combined with his maiden win on Jan. 1, the Todd Pletcher-trainee has won his two starts by a total of 24 lengths and has the industry clamoring after him. On Thursday, it was announced that Coolmore Stud — which already owns half of juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby — had purchased a stake in Verrazano and would race him in partnership with Let's Go Stable.
Verrazano's buzz-horse status is the latest feather in the cap of Sullivan, 36, and Scatuorchio, 31, who founded Let's Go Stable for the purpose of being a small, higher-end partnership.
Scatuorchio's relationship with Jake "J.J." Pletcher — who operates Payton Training Center in Florida — and Todd Pletcher is particularly deep rooted as Kevin's father, James, campaigned such top Pletcher trainees as More Than Ready and champion English Channel. Thus, the Let's Go team has the inherent advantage of already knowing how to spot and bring talent together.
"Anyone that buys horses has their team and I think ours is second to none," said Sullivan, who is also Scatuorchio's brother-in-law. "We mainly buy at Keeneland September, and between Todd, J.J., myself and Kevin we look at every horse."
That Let's Go Stable has been able to adjust and now thrive at a time when the market is depressed is also as much a source of pride as the impact they are having with about eight horses of racing age on their roster.
"When we started, we had about two good years of fund-raising because the market was great. Then when everything went south, it was tough," Sullivan said. "To have people say, 'I just lost my job' and to ask, 'Can you give me some money to go buy horses?' Nobody wanted to hear that for two or three years.
"In that respect, we are a little bit behind from where we want to be. But we wanted to be a small boutique and I think we've accomplished that so far. I pinch myself everyday when I wake up now."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.