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Verrazano looming as Kentucky Derby favorite

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Verrazano enhanced his status as the likely favorite for next month's Kentucky Derby with a narrow win in Saturday's $1 million Wood Memorial, one of the key lead-up races to the annual Run for the Roses.

The unbeaten three-year-old made it four wins from as many starts when he held off Vyjack and Normandy Invasion to win the nine furlong race on dirt at the Aqueduct track in New York.

Verrazano's trainer Todd Pletcher said the colt would not race again before the Derby, at Churchill Downs on May 4.

The 20-horse field is selected by a point scoring system from specific lead-up races. Verrazano is guaranteed of his place after winning the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial, which has produced 11 Kentucky Derby winners.

Meanwhile, Doug O'Neill, who trained last year's Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another, ensured he would have another starter in this year's big race when he saddled up the winner of Saturday's Santa Anita Derby.

The O'Neill-prepared Goldencents outstayed the favorite Flashback to win the $750,000 event in California and secure his place in the Derby as the field starts to take shape.

The build-up to the 139th Kentucky Derby continues next weekend with the running of the Arkansas Derby and Toyota Bluegrass.

(Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Ian Ransom)

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