By Dick Downey
Photo by NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Using a strong late kick, Vyjack remains undefeated with a come-from-behind victory in the Grade III Gotham Stakes.
Ridden patiently by Joel Rosario, early on Vyjack was tenth of the 11 runners, well off the early pace set by West Hills Giant, who cut out the initial quarter-mile of :24.16. The pacesetter went on with fractions of :48.69 and 1:12.72. Transparent was second going up the backstretch, followed by Escapefromreality and Overanalyze, who broke well from the outside post 11 under John Velazquez.
Rounding the far turn, West Hills Giant stayed on despite his 33-1 odds, while Overanalyze, the 8-5 favorite, was being ridden by Velazquez. Transparent was staying with the leader in second, and Escapefromreality was beginning to falter.
West Hills Giant led the field down the stretch. Just as it looked as if another huge upset might occur in a Kentucky Derby prep race, he was run down by Vyjack, the 2-1 second choice. Vyjack took the overland route to get up for the win by 2 1/4 lengths. He was timed in 1:44.09 for the 1 1/16 mile.
Elnaawi , who ran mid-pack into the stretch, also got up late to get third, and Siete de Oros was fourth after running with Elnaawi throughout the trip. They were followed by Overanalyze, Transparent, Amerigo Vespucci, Champion Boy, Escapefromreality, Sky Captain and Ore Pass. Now and Then was scratched.
An objection alleging interference soon after the start lodged by Channing Hill, aboard Elnaawi, against Jose Espinoza of West Hills Giant was disallowed. A stewards' inquiry was not declared.
Vyack, now a winner of his four career starts, paid $6.70 to win, $4.20 to place and $3.20 to show. The Gotham was his second start of 2013. He won the Grade II Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 5.
A gelding, Vyjack has been a little hard to handle despite his change of equipment, and Pick Six Racing's David Winkenfeld decided a rider change was in order. Despite Vyjack's perfect record, Winkenfeld replaced Cornelio Velasquez with Rosario, saying this week that Velasqez "is better with horses that aren't as aggressive. I just felt they were fighting each other a little bit."
The move worked, as Vyjack relaxed in the early running and had plenty left for the stretch.
A total of 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points was awarded, with 50 going to Vyjack, 20 to West Hills Giant, 10 to Elnaawi and five to Siete de Oros. Every starter in the Gotham was nominated to the Triple Crown.
Vyjack is now tied for second in the Kentucky Derby points standings. Fifty points is thought by many observers of the new qualifying system to be sufficient to make the race.
From the purse of $400,000, Vyjack earned $240,000.
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall and was a $600,000 purchase at the Keeneland September 2011 yearling sale. He's trained by Rudy Rodriguez. By Into Mischief, he's out of Life Happened, by Stravinsky.
Rudy Rodriguez, winning trainer: “He’s a good horse. I wasn’t worried when he was last. He’s that type of horse. I was hoping to see him that way. You don’t want to gun the horse all the time. He was able to relax good and be comfortable. He showed that he’s a really good horse … I told Joel just not to move too soon, let him do his race. I don’t think we’ve gotten to the bottom of him yet.”
Looking forward to the Kentucky Derby? “We’ll see. We’ll take it one step at a time, hopefully he’ll keep improving. I’m excited about him, that’s for sure. We thought maybe this horse could take us there. So far he’s proven he can belong with this kind. Hopefully he can keep going.”
Will he run in the Wood Memorial on April 6? "He’s fresh. We gave him two months off for this race. We’ll talk with the owner and see what he wants to do.”
Joel Rosario, winning jockey: “A perfect trip. He had always showed a lot of speed, but he was very relaxed today. I let him do whatever he wanted. He looked very good today. He was very relaxed. He broke OK, and I didn’t want to get in a hurry. 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.”
David Wilkenfeld of Pick Six Racing: “It’s amazing. Words can’t describe it. You buy a horse, you hope for this, but it’s not something you really think about. I was nervous, because I’ve been watching the races all day, and everything is first to second and pretty tight. Watching it on the replay it was great, unbelievable. I saw him way back – I saw he broke a step slow – but he got him to relax, and he ran like we thought he could run.
“That’s always been our game plan to stay at Aqueduct (and run in the Wood). We wanted to get a two-turn race, and we thought the Jerome was a little quick, but the Withers was too close to the Gotham and the Wood, so we took a chance and ran back quickly (in the Jerome). Then we wanted to take the time and work with him and give him the proper rest and let him mature.”
John Terranova, trainer of runner-up West Hills Giant: “He was a little green; he was laying in a little bit when (Jose Espinoza) asked him to go on. He finally switched on once that horse went by him. He’s always been a little green; that’s why we put blinkers on him. We may have to close them up a little bit. We have just a small cup on him; we may have to work with that a little bit, but I think this race will bring him on even more.
“If he goes forward, we’ll stay right here (for the Wood). He’s a New York-bred – no reason to leave here.”
Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, Overanalyze: “He’s got a race under his belt now. Todd and (owner Mike Repole) will put their heads together and figure out a spot for him next time.”
John Velazquez, rider aboard Overanalyze: “I was where I wanted to be, perfect position, nice pace. He didn’t come up with any run at all. When we got to the turn at the three-eighths pole, he let go and just didn’t come with any run at all. Sometimes they need to get back to the distance again; maybe he needed the race.”