It may not have been as easy as you want to see a 3-10 shot win, but the good news for Team Vyjack is that their 2013 Kentucky Derby runner came back a winner today. Making his first start since last summer’s Haskell Invitational, the four-year-old son of Into Mischief scored by three-quarters of a length over Sensational Slam in a field of five older allowance/optional claimers going seven furlongs this afternoon at Aqueduct.
Stalking the speedy Royal Currier furlong after furlong, the race was not without some anxious moments for the numerous Vyjack supporters. Leveling off in mid-stretch, the heavy favorite finally reeled in the early leader, though, and had plenty in reserve to hold off the late-running Sensational Slam for the win. Final time on Aqueduct’s fast track was a very respectable 1:22.24, under rider Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Trained by Rudy Rodriguez for David Wilkenfeld's Pick Six Racing, the victory for Vyjack was his first since winning the Grade 3 Gotham last March. It’s been a long road back for the multiple graded stakes winner. After consecutive disappointing efforts in the Kentucky Derby, Belmont, and Haskell, the gelding was diagnosed with severe gastric ulcers. Given plenty of time to recover from the ailment, Vyjack began preparing for his comeback at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland this year, and came into today’s race with four workouts at Aqueduct. His trainer was realistically expecting a good effort before the return.
"When we brought him from Fair Hill we always wanted to try to run him at the end of the meet," said Rodriguez before the race. "We know he likes Aqueduct. I don't think we have him 100 percent, so the race looks like a good race to start him. Maybe a mile would be better for him, but he'll go seven eighths on the main track. He's doing very good, and we're happy with the way he's training. We're happy with the way he's coming up to the race. We'd like to give him this race to point to the bigger races. If he runs the way we expect him to run, we'll try to run him in the Met Mile at Belmont. That's our goal right now, so, hopefully, everything works from here. But so far, so good."
After the race, Rodriguez was pleased with the performance and continued with the idea of the $1.25 million Met Mile as his first major goal of the season.
"I was very happy with what I saw. I was a little concerned on the backside, because [pacesetter] Royal Currier is a tough horse to beat when he's on the lead. My horse likes to wait for horses, but having another horse as a target was good for him. He was very, very special. The [Met Mile on June 7] is still the target. We'll try to keep him happy until then. So far, so good."
Bred in Kentucky by the red hot Machmer Hall operation, Vyjack raised his career mark to five wins from nine lifetime starts. The gelding won his first four races, including the Grade 2 Jerome, before the Gotham, which placed him squarely on last year’s Derby Trail. In his fifth start, he finished a very good third to Verrazano and Normandy Invasion in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, before his unsuccessful trip to Louisville.
"It was a race he needed. He wasn't fully cranked,” said Wilkenfeld. “It was a good prep race. It probably was a little short for him, but he'll move forward off the race. Anytime you have a horse who was that sick and is coming off a layoff you're a little anxious. We wanted to get a race in, and we did what we needed to do to win. If he comes out of the race well, the Met Mile is our plan."
The group seems to be in agreement … a sure to be loaded Met Mile is the plan, and at a distance that would seem to fit Vyjack perfectly. In an already stacked older male division, it’s nice to add the name Vyjack back to the list.
Time to toss another pretender from the 2014 Kentucky Derby list until we are down to only the true contenders - #6 Tapiture.