To play, or not to play, that is the question. An eternal question that plagues the horseplayer on a weekly, if not daily basis, and certainly not exclusive to the one day a year where the entire world seems to watch. But let’s not fool ourselves, the Kentucky Derby is a different animal. It’s an event in which everyone wants to look good, and whether we are talking about fancy hats or Pick 4’s, we all want to bring our best on the first Saturday in May. Because of this, handicappers spend infinitely more time on Derby data than any other race. Derby handicapping is a minefield of mysteries, and we can only hope to unlock as many of them as possible before both Kentucky Derby starting gates spring open. One such horse of mystery to me is Vyjack.
Vyjack has been a bit of a puzzle of mine since day one, constantly making me question my beliefs and notions as to what kind of horse he really is. Questions such as ...
Is he a front runner, or does he prefer to rally?
He was undefeated heading into the Wood Memorial, but had he really beaten anything? Can a son of new sire, Into Mischief, really excel at the classic distance of ten furlongs?
He ran a good race in the Wood, but was his third place finish a sign of worse things to come, or was it actually a big performance considering how competitive he was despite coming out of the race sick?
He spent some quality time taking in pure oxygen at the bucolic setting of Fair Hill Training Center … Is this the kind of thing that can help a young horse arrive at Churchill Downs with the most positive of attitudes?
The general clocker consensus was that his lone workout at Churchill Downs was nothing to write home about … Is this something that should really concern me?
Now I know we’ll likely have most of these answers taken care of late Saturday afternoon, but that doesn’t do me much good in the here and now, and at the betting windows. And frankly, it’s no fun to let the riddle of Vyjack go unsolved before the answer is revealed. So, I’m going to try to answer these questions now, and as simply as possible.
I think he is a rallier, or at least, that is what he has become. Perhaps he was talented enough to be on the pace early on, but now in his last two races, and thanks to his training, is now very comfortable in picking off horses like he did in the Gotham. Keep in mind, in the Wood he got no pace to run at. I recognize that the Wood Memorial versions of Verrazano, and Normandy Invasion were likely his toughest tests to date, but looking back at race one through race five, I am quite content that Vyjack has faced good competition since his debut.
Can he get the distance? Why not. Into Mischief has only proven to be a good young sire to this point. He has not had the chance yet to prove that his offspring cannot handle the classic distances. If Vyjack is good enough, I don’t believe it is the distance that will beat him on May 4.
Considering that he was right there and never packed it in against two of the Derby favorites in the Wood is a very good sign. They ran fast in the stretch and so did he. That kind of running coming out of the Derby far turn may serve him very well. And what if he improves, because he was not at his best physically for the Wood?
Yes, his time away from the daily grind is a positive. Rudy says he is a happy horse, and that is good enough for me. My only question is … Can I get some quality R&R and pure oxygen treatments at Fair Hill sometime soon?
And finally … No, the fact that a few clockers said Vyjack only looked okay during his Churchill Downs breeze, does not faze me at all. They simply do not know what is inside this horse.
Questions answered; Vyjack will by my top long shot selection for the 2013 Kentucky Derby.