Pick Six Racing's Vyjack was declared ready for the $1 million Wood Memorial (gr. I) to be run April 6 after breezing at Aqueduct Racetrack March 30.
Working in company with stablemate Aussi Austin, the sophomore son of Into Mischief was credited with a six-furlong move in 1:12.63.
It was a busy day for 3-year-old hopefuls pointing to New York's key prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), as Elnaawi and Mr Palmer were both on the New York tab. Earlier in the week on March 28, Freedom Child, and Quinzieme Monarque breezed at Palm Meadows Training Center.
Vyjack began his move two lengths behind Aussi Austin, and after dropping back an additional length in the first furlong, engaged that one about 3 1/2 furlongs from the finish. Both runners were restrained in the stretch, with Vyjack finishing a head in front of his workmate.
"He came home good, was relaxed, and set himself up perfectly for the race," said owner David Wilkenfeld, who unofficially timed Vyjack in 1:13 3/5.
Gustavo Rodriguez, brother of trainer Rudy Rodriguez, said teaching the gelding to settle behind another horse was an emphasis of this breeze. Gustavo Rodriguez was in the saddle for the March 30 move as well as a five-furlong drill in :59.07 on March 22; he is running the stable as his brother serves a 20-day suspension.
"We wanted the other horse to go and for [Vyjack] to relax," said Rodriguez. "We want him to be relaxed, because when he runs in the Wood we want him to come from behind. I'm very, very happy with the work. We didn't want to go like last time—we wanted to go a little slower."
Vyjack has raced exclusively at Aqueduct and is unbeaten in four starts, including a head victory in the Jerome (gr. II) in January and a 2 1/4-length win in the March 2 Gotham (gr. III), both contested on the inner track.
"His first two races were on the main track, and he ran well in both of those races," said Wilkenfeld of Vyjack's maiden score and victory in the Traskwood overnight stakes. "I think the wider turns will suit him better, and hopefully we'll have an even, honest racetrack for the Wood and that the best horse will win."
Vyjack is expected to face another unbeaten runner, Verrazano, in the Wood.
"The waters constantly get deeper, and this is a good test for him," said Wilkenfeld. "I think Vyjack will be the best horse Verrazano has faced to date. There are some other quality 3-year-olds in the race, so I think it's going to be one of the better prep races."
Shadwell Stable's Elnaawi breezed five furlongs as well but at Belmont Park with exercise rider Renzo Morales in the saddle. Third in the Gotham in his stakes debut for Shadwell, the Street Sense colt went out after the second renovation break and worked in company with Ghareeb, a maiden 3-year-old also owned by Shadwell, Elnaawi broke off at the half-mile pole, crossed the finish line in :46.95, and galloped out five furlongs in :59.80.
"He was strong through the lane," said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "He started off a couple of lengths behind and caught up. Last summer he was definitely quirky; he's very professional right now. In his first two starts he had perfect trips. Going into the Gotham, we worked him behind a couple and he ran great, so we started him off behind one today, just to teach him it's okay to go by one."
Also working at Belmont was Michael Lauffer and Gregory McDonald's Mr Palmer, who will carry a two-race winning streak into the Wood. The homebred son of Pulpit tuned up for the 1 1/8-mile race with a half-mile breeze with exercise rider Steve Schmez in the irons. He was first out after the second renovation break and covered four furlongs in :48.93.
"He looked great," said Leana Willaford, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. "He went off nice and finished very well. Steve was just sitting on him, and he came back jumping around and feeling good."
Mr Palmer posted a front-running victory to break his maiden Feb. 17, then followed with a last-to-first win in the Private Terms Stakes on March 9 at Laurel Park.
On March 28, trainer Tom Albertrani's Wood Memorial-bound duo of Freedom Child and Quinzieme Monarque worked at Palm Meadows, with Freedom Child caught in :49.24 for a half mile and Quinzieme Monarque clocked in 1:03.58 for five furlongs.
In other March 30 Wood Memorial news, Gotham runner-up West Hills Giant was withdrawn from consideration for the race due to a respiratory infection that that caused him to miss a scheduled workout.
"He was due to work today," said Tonja Terranova, who assists her husband, trainer John Terranova. "He scoped dirty after his last work (March 24) and missed a couple of days. It was in his best interests to skip this work."
Terranova said West Hills Giant, a New York-bred son of Frost Giant who is 2-1-1 from six career starts, could possibly make his next start in the April 13 Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) or the April 20 Coolmore Lexington (gr. III), both at Keeneland.