Pick Six Racing's Vyjack remained unbeaten in four starts and proceeded on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with an impressive late run March 2 in the $400,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack (VIDEO).
The 3-year-old son of Into Mischief , winner of the Jan. 5 Jerome Stakes (gr. II), swung five wide off the final turn—and was still eighth at the top of the lane under jockey Joel Rosario—but kicked into high gear in the final furlong to easily run down 33-1 shot West Hills Giant by 2 1/4 lengths. Repole Stable's 2012 Remsen Stakes (gr. II) winner Overanalyze , 8-5 favorite in a field of 11, finished fifth in his season debut.
Vyjack, purchased for $100,000 from the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale, is the first horse for Pick Six owner David Wilkenfeld. The 50 points he earned toward a starting spot in the Derby catapulted him to a tie for second second on the qualifying list behind longshot Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) winner Ive Struck a Nerve.
"Words can't describe it," Wilkenfeld said of the Gotham win. "You buy a horse, you hope for this, but it's not something you really think about. I was nervous when he was so far back 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 Joel got him to relax and he ran like we thought he could run."
Vyjack, bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall out of the Stravinsky mare Life Happened, came off a determined head win over Siete de Oros in the Jan. 5 Jerome, run at one mile and 70 yards over the Aqueduct inner track. His prior victories, both at Aqueduct, came in the Dec. 9 Traskwood Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths sprinting seven furlongs as a 2-year-old, that score earned off a Nov. 10 maiden special weight debut won by 1 3/4.
Vyjack was first pinhooked as a yearling at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky 2011 select yearling sale for $45,000 by Pike Racing, agent when consigned by Select Sales, agent. He now has earnings of $442,200.
"He's a good horse," trainer Rudy Rodriguez remarked. "I wasn't worried when he was last (early on). 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 don't think we've gotten to the bottom of him yet."
West Hills Giant went to the front at the start of the 1 1/16-mile Gotham, leading Escapefromreality, Transparent, and Overanalyze through moderate early fractions of :24.16 and :48.68. Vyjack was ninth in the early going under Rosario, ahead of only trailer Amerigo Vespucci.
"He broke OK, and I didn't want to get in a hurry," Rosario said. "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 bay gelding made a steady run up into eighth at the half and was still sitting in that position on the outside as West Hills Giant and Transparent opened a four-length gap through three-quarters in 1:12.72. When West Hills Giant turned for home on the rail with something left to give, Rosario and Vyjack swung five wide and set down for the drive.
"A perfect trip," Rosario said. "He had always showed a lot of speed, but he was very relaxed today... He showed he can come from off the pace. He was very relaxed."
Vyjack closed ground outside with a powerful turn of foot in the final furlong, finishing comfortably ahead of the flagging frontrunner in a final time of 1:44.09. Elnaawi was third while Siete de Oros made a late run up the rail to grab fourth. Overanalyze, Transparent, Amerigo Vespuchi, Champion Boy, Escapefromreality, Sky Captain, and Ore Pass completed the order of finish. Now and Then scratched.
Following a stewards' inquiry into the start, when the second-place finisher came over significantly from the 10 post, the order was declared official with no change. Vyjack, sent off the 2-1 second choice, returned $6.70, $4.20, and $3.20 while West Hills Giant paid $21.20 and $12.20. Elnaawi paid $6.40.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez said Overanalyze did not respond when asked for run.
"I was where I wanted to be, perfect position, nice pace," Velazquez said. "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."
"That's always been our game plan to stay at Aqueduct and run in the Wood," Wilkenfeld remarked. "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."
According to trainer John Terranova, West Hills Giant will also remain in New York to target the Wood.
"If he goes forward, we'll stay right here," Terranova said. "He's a New York-bred, no reason to leave here. He was a little green; he was laying in a little bit when (jockey) 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."