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Aqueduct Racetrack Notes - April 25

By NYRA Press Office | 04/25/2014 02:55 PM ET
PHOTO/Susie Raisher

  • Wicked Strong, Samraat, Uncle Sigh have final major preps for Kentucky Derby
  • Vyjack, 2013 G3 Gotham winner, returns in Sunday optional claimer
  • Fields forming for opening week stakes at Belmont Park

The New York-based trio of Samraat, Wicked Strong, and Uncle Sigh had their final major preps for next Saturday's Kentucky Derby this morning, with Samraat working a mile at Aqueduct Racetrack and Wicked Strong and Uncle Sigh breezing seven and five furlongs, respectively, over Belmont Park's training track.

Samraat, who won his first five races before finishing second to Wicked Strong in the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial, was first out, stepping onto the main track at the Big A shortly after 7 a.m. With exercise rider Rodney Paine in the irons, the New York-bred son of Noble Causeway went an easy mile in 1:45.91, with an opening quarter in 27.79 and a half in 54.62 seconds.

"I really didn't want him to go too fast," said Rick Violette, who trains Samraat for Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Stable. "We just wanted to get it done. Time was only important if he went too fast, and he didn't. He went great."

Violette said the decision to work Samraat a mile was based on how effective that schedule has been for him in the past. The colt won all three races against New York-breds as a 2-year-old, including a 16 ¾-length victory in the Damon Runyon, and narrowly beat Uncle Sigh in the Grade 3 Withers and the Grade 3 Gotham before finishing 3 ½ lengths behind Wicked Strong in the 1 1/8-mile Wood.

"It's worked for him all along," said Violette, who said Samraat will be flown to Kentucky on Monday. "Now, we have eight days with a travel day. We'll let him be happy and recharge his batteries. He'll have a light week, and he just has to feel like King Kong on Saturday. I think it's a wide-open race. California Chrome is the target, and the favorite, but there are going to be 19 horses to beat. You need a good trip, a little bit of luck here or there, and a good horse to win."

At Belmont Park, both Wicked Strong and Uncle Sigh went out after the second renovation break at 9:30 a.m.

Wicked Strong, with exercise rider Kelvin Pahal up, worked seven-eighths in 1:27.11 after breaking from the half-mile pole, galloping out a mile in 1:40.72.

"It's always good to finish up a work like that," said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "It's for stamina, and it just keeps him from getting too nervous. I like the way he worked. A lot of things have to work out. He's got to handle the crowd, he's got to handle the track, he's got to handle all the other things that go with it. At least he's going there in a good frame of mind and in good condition. As far as how he's doing, I couldn't be happier."

Jerkens, who trains the Hard Spun colt for Centennial Farms, said Wicked Strong leaves New York on a van for Louisville on Saturday afternoon, arriving at Churchill Downs early Sunday morning.

"He's got a good work under his belt; I was happy to get this out of the way," said Jerkens. "We can afford to lose the day he's going to lose shipping. He can lounge a little bit, we can take him out in the afternoon to look at the place, and then he can gallop Monday morning."

Jerkens said Wicked Strong would most likely blow out a quarter-mile through the stretch on Thursday at Churchill Downs.

"If he gallops out in 37 and change, that should be all he needs," he said.

Uncle Sigh, who was 1-3-0 in four starts before finishing fifth in the Wood, went five furlongs in 1:00.19 under former jockey and exercise rider Nick Santagata, galloping out seven furlongs in 1:27.72.

"He came home shading 23 seconds; it was a very strong work," said trainer Gary Contessa of the Wounded Warrior Stable color-bearer. "His last quarter-mile was effortless and it was exactly what I was looking for. He came back like he can't even blow out a match."

It was the second time Uncle Sigh worked in blinkers, which he will wear in the Derby.

"He's much more focused [with blinkers]; he's rating kindly," said Contessa. "Everybody that puts blinkers on before the Derby worries about being the next Palace Malice. I see that he's rating kindly in behind horses; we put him in behind horses and made him eat dirt. We've done our due diligence this last month and we've worked him where he has to come up through the rail. I don't see any hesitancy, and I always saw hesitancy in [Uncle Sigh] without the blinkers. "

Like Wicked Strong, Uncle Sigh will be vanned to Louisville, departing at 5 a.m. on Saturday.

"I might do something at Churchill. I'm thinking maybe Wednesday or Thursday let him run through the stretch just to let him air out a little, three-eighths," Contessa said. "I just wanted to get his [work] done here; this is his hometown. I didn't want to throw him into the fire down in Churchill right away and I think we're getting there far enough in advance that he'll be able to take it all in."

Vyjack, the 2013 Grade 3 Gotham winner, will make his first start in almost nine months on Sunday when he competes in a seven-furlong optional claimer at Aqueduct Racetrack.

A winner of his first four races, Vyjack suffered his first defeat when he was third, beaten one length, in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial before finishing 18th in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, eighth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, and sixth in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. He was shut down for the remainder of 2013 after being diagnosed with gastric ulcers.

Vyjack, who is trained by Rudy Rodriguez for David Wilkenfeld's Pick Six Racing, began preparing for his comeback at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland before turning in four workouts at Aqueduct. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he hopes the gelded son of Into Mischief is ready to put in a strong performance in Sunday's race, which could be used as a springboard to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap on June 7, Belmont Stakes Day.  

"When we brought him from Fair Hill we always wanted to try to run him at the end of the meet [at Aqueduct]," said Rodriguez. "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."

Rodriguez said Vyjack does not have to win on Sunday to continue to the Met Mile.

"I'd him like to show up the right way," said Rodriguez. "If he wins, that'd be very good, especially for him. He's a gelding; we have a long future ahead of us for him, so we want to try to take one step at a time and see if we can get the job done on Sunday."

Belmont Park will offer a pair of graded stakes during its opening week, and both will be contested on the turf on Kentucky Derby Day, Saturday, May 3.

In the Grade 3, $150,000 Fort Marcy for 4-year-olds and up, Boisterous will attempt to win his sixth stakes at Belmont. Boisterous picked up his first graded stakes victory in the 2012 Fort Marcy and subsequently added a win in the 2013 Grade 1 Man o' War, also at Belmont. He has made one start this year, taking an allowance race by a neck on April 5 at Keeneland for his new trainer, Todd Pletcher.

Likely to accompany Boisterous in the starting gate are Five Iron, Ghurair, Seal Cove, Sky Blazer, Speaking of Which, Tetradrachm and Unbridled Ocean. Summer Front is possible.

Graded-stakes winning Abaco is expected to headline the Grade 3, $150,000 Beaugay. The late-running mare came within a half-length of winning the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley in her last start after closing with a flourish over the Keeneland turf. She won the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap to close out her 2013 season.

Byrama, now in the barn of Hall of Famer Bill Mott, is also probable for the Beaugay. Primarily a turf horse early in her career, the bay daughter of Byron became a Grade 1 winner on synthetic in 2013, taking the Grade 1 Vanity on June 15 at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Others probable for the race include Assateague, English Class, Julie's Love, Orion Moon and Waterway Run, while Dame Marie and Irish Mission are possible.

On Friday, Belmont will also present the Affirmed Success, and three horses are currently probable for the race: Be Bullish, Marriedtothemusic, and Weekend Hideaway.