It’s not that I’ve never seen a horse do what Vyjack did yesterday, because I have. But in forty years of watching the races, I could probably count the number of horses that I have seen do it on one hand. What exactly did the undefeated son of Into Mischief do that was so extraordinary? Simple … confirmed speed horses do not drop way back, only to come from the clouds and roll to victory. Making it all the more of a pleasant surprise was the fact that, in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, the sudden metamorphosis came in his toughest race to date. In racing, it would seem as rare as Halley’s Comet. Yet that is exactly what Vyjack was able to accomplish yesterday on the inner track of Aqueduct.
Granted, his sample size was small, with only three races to his credit before yesterday’s stunner, but Vyjack looked to the entire world like a horse that would be on the front end in the Gotham. He had previously pressured solid fractions before winning his first two races, a pair of sprints. In his stakes, and two-turn debut, Vyjack laid down the early fractions, before prevailing in a stretch-long battle in the Jerome. So when he fell behind to the back of the pack almost immediately yesterday, it would have been easy to dismiss his chances just as quickly. This was true for most in attendance, but apparently not so with his connections.
“I was looking for him to run that way, taking dirt in the face because we have been working with him like that,” said winning trainer, Rudy Rodriguez.
If that was indeed the plan, their young star could not have fulfilled their wishes any better. Looking as smooth and comfortable as a horse that was born to be a one-run closer, Vyjack responded to rider Joel Rosario’s commands in kind. He patiently waited until it was time to go, and when that word came, he went. Picking them up and laying them down, the bay gelding stormed from tenth to first, and won going away impressively by 2 ¼ lengths. They may have been working towards a different style of racing for Vyjack, but his connections could not have expected the change to happen so perfectly.
"We were very, very happy to see him do what he did yesterday, especially when everything was winning close to the pace,” said Rodriguez.
If you need another reason to appreciate what Vyjack was able to accomplish yesterday, take a look at the charts of every other race on the card. Other than the Gotham, every race was won by a horse on, or near the lead in the early stages. The Pick Six Racing owned runner was the lone closer to win on the card. It still seems odd to call Vyjack a closer, but yesterday, that is exactly what he was. This begs the question just what kind of horse he is.
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing yet,” said Rodriguez. “I think he’s still got more."
More, yes, but more of what? Speed? Stalk? Rally? Maybe Vyjack is that rare horse that can do whatever it is that needs to be done in a given race. Just win, baby… after all, that is the name of the game.
Admittedly, Vyjack is a horse that I was slow to believe in as far as potential to win on the first Saturday in May. Now his first-crop sire, Into Mischief looks more interesting to me. Now I am remembering that his half-brother, Prime Cut finished well in both the Lexington and Peter Pan a couple of years ago. Now I see Vyjack in a whole new light, and it all happened in the time it took for him to storm down the Aqueduct stretch yesterday. The Wood Memorial will be the last test before Vyjack has a date in the Kentucky Derby, and suddenly I cannot wait to see what this horse will do next.
Photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese