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Undefeated Vyjack Storms to Victory in G3 Gotham

By Jenny Kellner | 03/02/2013 07:00 PM ET
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

Undefeated Vyjack took a big step along New York’s road to the Kentucky Derby as he stormed through the stretch to win the Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack by 2 ¼ lengths over West Hills Giant.

The gelded bay son of Into Mischief, who had been on or close to the pace in each of his three previous victories, was taken back into 10th by new rider Joel Rosario, well behind pacesetter West Hills Giant, who led the field of 11 3-year-olds through opening fractions of 24.16, 48.68 and 1:12.72 while under pressure from Escapefromreality and Transparent.

One of the longest shots in the field at 33-1, West Hills Giant had a firm grip on the lead at the top of the stretch, but Vyjack was just getting underway from the back of the pack. Kicking into high gear once straightened for home, the gelding barreled past his rivals and took command with 200 yards to go. Widening his advantage to the wire, he completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.09.

“He broke OK, and I didn’t want to get in a hurry,” said Rosario. “I just let him do whatever he wanted to do. He was pretty relaxed behind horses, and he did everything right. Turning for home, I was pretty far behind, but that’s where he wanted to be. He passed [West Hills Giant], and then he just kept on going.”

The victory gave Vyjack 50 points in the new “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying system, which likely is enough to put him in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 4. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez and owner Dave Wilkenfeld of Pick Six Racing indicated the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 6 at the Big A – a 1 1/8-mile race worth 100 points – would be the gelding’s final prep for the 1 ¼-mile Derby.

“That’s always been our game plan to stay at Aqueduct [and run in the Wood],” said Wilkenfeld of Vyjack, who won the Grade 2 Jerome on January 5 last time out. “We wanted to get a two-turn race and we thought the Jerome was a little quick [off his previous race], but the Withers was too close to the Gotham and the Wood, so we took a chance and ran back quickly. Then we wanted to take the time and work with him and give him the proper rest and let him mature.”

The 2-1 second choice, Vyjack returned $6.70 and earned $240,000 for Wilkenfeld, who paid $100,000 for him as a 2-year-old in May. Sent off at 17-1 on his winning debut at Aqueduct on November 10, he returned a month later to win the Traskwood overnight stakes by 5 ¾ lengths before taking the one mile, 70-yard Jerome in his first start of 2013.

“It’s amazing,” said Wilkenfeld. “Words can’t describe it. You buy a horse, you hope for this, but it’s not something you really think about.”

West Hills Giant, who held for second despite running greenly through the stretch, likely will go on to the Wood, said trainer John Terranova.

“If he goes forward, we’ll stay right here [and point to the Wood Memorial],” said Terranova. “He’s a New York-bred – no reason to leave here.”

Closing to finish third was Shadwell Stables Elnaawi, who broke his maiden on January 13, with Siete de Oros, favored Overanalyze, Transparent, Amerigo Vespucci, Champion Boy, Escapefromreality, Sky Captain and Ore Pass completing the order of finish. Now and Then was scratched.

Overanalyze, who won the 2012 Remsen and Futurity, both Grade 2 events, was beaten a little more than five lengths in his 3-year-old debut.

“When we got to the turn at the three-eighths pole, he let go and just didn’t come with any run at all,” said jockey John Velazquez of the beaten favorite. “Sometimes they need to get back to the distance again; maybe he needed the race.”