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Aqueduct Racetrack Notes - Feb. 24, 2013

By NYRA Press Office | 02/24/2013 02:35 PM ET
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

Vyjack confirmed for G3 Gotham

Elnaawi to represent McLaughlin barn in Gotham; Consortium heading to G3 Tom Fool Handicap

Sunny Desert carrying six-race winning streak into G2 Top Flight Handicap

Fields taking shape for Saturday’s trio of graded stakes

Smash arrives from Caifornia, tunes up for Tom Fool

Johannesburg Smile to have final Tom Fool work on Monday

Trainer Rudy Rodriguez was counting his blessings on Sunday, six days in advance of Vyjack’s expected start in the Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds and Aqueduct Racetrack’s primary prep race for the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 6.

Vyjack, owned by David Wilkenfeld’s Pick Six Racing, is unbeaten in three starts, all at Aqueduct. In his most recent outing, he contested the pace and wore down Siete de Oros to win the Grade 2 Jerome by a head on January 5 at Aqueduct. It was Rodriguez’s biggest victory since making the transition from riding to training in 2010.

“I’m still dreaming. It’s a very good feeling,” said Rodriguez. “I’m very lucky to have him. The competition is going to get tougher, so he’ll have to keep stepping up.”

On Thursday Rudy Rodriguez sent out Vyjack for a six-furlong breeze over the inner track, with the gelded son of Into Mischief covering the distance in 1:15.13.

“He did it very good and did him everything we asked him to do,” said Rodriguez. “It looks like he’s coming into the race in good shape. He’s going a little longer this time, so we had him breeze six furlongs and gallop out seven eighths.”

Rodriguez also has a prime contender for the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap for sprinters in Head Heart Hoof, a 7-year-old gelding who picked up his first graded stakes victory in his 50th start when he won the Grade 3 Toboggan on February 2.

“I’m hoping he draws a good post [in the Tom Fool],” said Rodriguez, who trains Head Heart Hoof for a partnership headed by Michael Dubb. “The [outside] post helped him last time. He likes the inner track, which is why he’s running his best races now. We’re lucky to have him around.”



Shadwell Stable’s Elnaawi, a half-brother to 2011 Cigar Mile and 2012 Woodward winner To Honor and Serve, will make his graded stakes debut in next Saturday’s Grade 3 Gotham, the Kiaran McLaughlin stable confirmed on Sunday.

After finishing third in a seven-furlong sprint in the mud in December, Elnaawi, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, successfully stretched out to one mile to break his maiden by four lengths over a muddy inner track on January 12.

“We’ll see how we fit in. He’s training well and ran well, so here we are,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to McLaughlin.

Transparent, who broke his maiden by 5 ¾ lengths on January 26 in his sixth start, could represent Darley Stable in the Gotham.

“We’re not sure. We’ll talk to everyone involved,” said Magnuson said of Transparent’s status for the Gotham. “He needs to take another step forward. They’re lightly raced, and it’s just a timing and experience thing.”

Consortium is expected to carry the Godolphin Racing colors in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap on the Gotham undercard, Magnuson said. Consortium is 2-2-1 in six career starts and will enter the race off a 2 ¼-length victory in an entry-level optional claimer on January 19 over the Tom Fool’s six-furlong distance.

“He’s a two-other-than allowance horse, but it’s a short field and he ran well enough last time for us to take a shot,” said Magnuson. “The numbers people loved his last race. This will be a different ballgame, but it looks like we could fit in, even if we just get a piece of it and go on from there. It’s nice to see him running. Last year we ran two, three times and then gave him time off. He’s doing great. Sound. And then we can map out our summer.”



Since John Parisella claimed Sunny Desert for $35,000, the filly has gone from a sulking maiden to a four-time stakes winner. So, what does the trainer credit for the turnaround?

“When I claimed her she was in the back of her stall,” said Parisella. “With fillies, outside of maintenance, it’s mental, to get them in the game. I ordered a case of peppermints. It changed her around. She hears my voice. If I’m walking, she’ll stop and wait. I don’t know, but I’m not going to stop giving peppermints!”

On March 2, the 4-year-old peppermint-powered filly will attempt to become a graded stakes winner when she competes in Aqueduct’s Grade 2, $200,000 Top Flight Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares.

Owned by Saul and Max Kupferberg, Sunny Desert is riding a six-race winning streak that goes back to her 15 ¼-length maiden win on Aqueduct’s main track in March. Her streak also includes a pair of New York Stallion Stakes series victories, Belmont’s Judy Soda overnight stakes for New York-breds, and Aqueduct’s Cat Cay open overnight stakes on January 6 in her most recent start.

“You hope you can improve her enough where she can compete in New York-bred stakes, but I never thought – and I’m pretty conservative – that I’d be running in a Grade 2 and really thought I had a legitimate chance,” said Parisella. “The only thing going against her is that she has won six in a row; I hate streaks!”

The Cat Cay at one mile, 70 yards was her first start around two turns and beyond one mile.

“I always felt she could go long,” said Parisella. “A couple of races back she was totally relaxed. When I put her in the race going long, the open stakes, she didn’t break sharply because she was so relaxed. The geniuses trainers are, I thought with her speed she’d go wire-to-wire, but she didn’t break and came from off the pace. She really made me feel confident in her, to be two-dimensional.”



A trio of graded stakes winners are expected to head a deep field of Kentucky Derby hopefuls in Saturday’s 60th running of the Grade 3 Gotham, a key stepping stone along the New York road to the Kentucky Derby.

Mike Repole’s Overanalyze, who last year won the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont Park and the Grade 2 Remsen, Grade 2 Jerome hero Vyjack, and Honorable Dillon, who posted a half-length victory in the Grade 2 Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park last time out, could face as many as eight others in the two-turn race, according to NYRA stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes.

Among those likely to join them in the starting gate are Escapefromreality, beaten a neck by Revolutionary in the Grade 3 Withers on February 2; Withers third-place finisher Siete de Oros, and Ore Pass, most recently victorious in the Frank Whitely at Laurel Park. Also probable are Shadwell Stable’s promising maiden winner Alnaawi; Sky Captain, second in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park last time out; West Hills Giant, most recently third in the Java Gold overnight stakes on February 1; Alcolite, third in an optional claimer for New York-breds on February 3, and Champion Boy, fifth in the Withers.

Sprinters likely for the Grade 3 Tom Fool are Grade 3 Toboggan winner Head Heart Hoof and runner-up Johannesburg Smile, along with Sunshine Millions Sprint winner Off the Jak, Consortium, Saturday’s Charm, Smash and St. Liams Halo. Sinai, third in the Toboggan, is questionable.

Likely to challenge New York-bred sensation Sunny Desert as she looks to extend her winning streak to seven in a row in the Grade 2, $200,000 Top Flight Handicap are Lady Gracenote, a 5 ¼-length winner of an optional claimer on January 31; Sisterly Love and Summer Applause, third and sixth, respectively, in the Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston on January 26; Affectionately winner Twice the Lady and runner-up Withgreatpleasure, subsequently third in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie. Natalie Victoria is questionable.



Smash, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, tuned up for the Grade 3 Tom Fool with a brisk half-mile breeze in 48.69 over the Belmont Park training track on Saturday, a day after arriving at trainer John Terranova’s barn. Accomplished in company with Terranova’s Gotham candidate West Hills Giant, the move was the seventh-fastest of 45 at the distance.

A lightly raced son of Smart Strike, the 5-year-old Smash carries a record of 3-2-0 from seven starts into the Tom Fool. With a pair of allowance wins and a second in the Grade 2 Carry Back at Calder Race Course as a 3-year-old, Smash returned to the races in December after a year off and finished a close-up fifth inthe Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood at Betfair Hollywood Park.



Claimed for $100,000 out of a one-mile, 70-yard race on January 4, Johannesburg Smile finished second in the Grade 3, six-furlong Toboggan in his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole. The effort was impressive enough to keep the 6-year-old New York-bred running short with his next start in Saturday’s Tom Fool.

“He came out of that race in super order; thumbs up,” reported Pletcher assistant Michael McCarthy, who said Johnnesburg Smile will have his final breeze for the six-furlong Tom Fool on Monday morning. “Turning him back to sprints seemed to work well last time and he certainly ran well enough. Hopefully the Tom Fool sets us up for something a little longer, distance-wise, in his next start after that.”

The multiple stakes-wining son of Johannesburg will be making his 31st career start in the Tom Fool, having compiled a record of 8-6-9 with earnings of $464,370.