Aqueduct's inner track had been unkind to closers all day, so when Vyjack broke 10th of 11 and was far back early, owner David Wilkenfeld "was nervous.'' Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he wasn't, and Rudy was right.
Vyjack surged five wide into the stretch, rallied powerfully and drew off under Joel Rosario for a 2¼-length win over the pacesetter, 33-1 West Hills Giant, Saturday in the Grade III, $400,000 Gotham Stakes, keeping him unbeaten (4-for-4) and on the Kentucky Derby trail. Elnaawi was third and Siete de Oros ran fourth.
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"I didn't worry,'' Rodriguez said. "In the mornings I put him behind horses a few times and he was fine. I just told Joel not to move too soon, let him do his race. I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of him yet.''
It was a disappointing 3-year-old debut for Overanalyze, the 8-5 favorite who was fifth, 4¼ lengths behind, for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole. With Pletcher in Florida, assistant Michael McCarthy saddled last year's Remsen Stakes winner.
"He broke well from post 11, was in good position at the top of the stretch, but he just got outrun,'' McCarthy said. "First race of the year, all things considered, we'd like to have won, but he got a race under his belt. I'm sure Todd and Mike will put their heads together and figure out a spot for him.''
Wilkenfeld, 55, grew up in Hewlett Harbor and learned the game at OTB, Belmont Park and Aqueduct. He became a very sharp student, because five years ago he had the only winning ticket of a $3.3 million pick 6 at Santa Anita, hence his stable's name: Pick Six Racing. The president of the retailer promgirl.com owned "a few claimers, nothing much'' before putting down $100,000 last May for Vyjack at a sale in Timonium, Md.
Vyjack, by the first-crop sire Into Mischief, is named for Wilkenfeld's parents, Vivienne and Jack, who enjoyed the fun at the Big A. Vyjack was a bad actor last spring and summer, too aggressive and studdish for his own good, so on the advice of trainer Bruce Jackson, Wilkenfeld decided to geld the horse. He has no regrets about putting racing ahead of a possible stud career.
Vyjack ran 11/16 miles in 1:44.09 on a fast track and paid $6.70 in his first race since the Grade II Jerome here Jan. 5. He earned $240,000 along with 50 points in the new qualifying system for the Derby. He's tied for second on the list and in excellent shape to get in if he stays healthy. If all goes well, Wilkenfeld said Aqueduct's Wood Memorial on April 6 will be his final prep.
"It's amazing,'' Wilkenfeld said. "Words can't describe it. Watching it on the replay was unbelievable. You buy a horse, you hope for this, but it's not something you really think about.
"The way he ran today was just superb. I think from what he's shown, he's a Derby horse.''