On a clear day at Aqueduct, sophomore Vyjack remained undefeated in three starts as an 11-10 choice for Pick Six Racing and trainer Rudy Rodriguez, and 9-10 pick Princess of Sylmar won her third in a row.
In the mile and 70-yard Jerome, two determined runners hooked up coming off the turn and engaged in a ding-dong stretch battle, with Siete de Oros poking a head in front on the rail before Vyjack refused to be denied outside.
The winning 3-year-old son of Into Mischief was making his graded stakes debut off a 5 3/4-length romp over a sloppy track in the $75,000 Traskwood Stakes going seven furlongs at Aqueduct Dec. 9. He will now await the March 2 Gotham Stakes (gr. III), the next step on the road to the 2013 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
"The owner and I already discussed this; now we'll just back off a little bit and wait for the Gotham," Rodriguez remarked. "Hopefully, he'll show up again. He's still learning and hopefully he keeps learning. He was very game. He shows us in the morning he's that way. I really don't want to see him on the lead because he'll kind of want to wait for horses. Hopefully this race will wake him up a little bit and put him more in the game because he's got a lot of talent."
Vyjack was hard-held by jockey Cornelio Velasquez when breaking from the two hole, as Mudflats shifted over from post six and got a head in front to lead the quarter in :24.14. But the big gelding soon powered his way back up to the front, going the half in :47.58 while leading by about half a length heading into the stretch.
Meanwhile, jockey Maria Remedio had Siete de Oros creeping up along the rail, and as the field of eight moved for home after completing three quarters in 1:12.04, Vyjack drifted out a little and allowed a seam to open for his rival. The two runners separated themselves from the bunch to run a mile in 1:36.59.
"My horse, I think, is a good horse, but he's a little green," Velasquez said. "He doesn't pay too much attention during the race. He tried to get out, and at the quarter pole the other horse came inside."
Vyjack was all-out to collar his longshot competitor, who put up a game fight on the inside while equipped with blinkers for the first time. But the winner put in one last determined surge coming up to the wire, getting the job done in a final time of 1:40.67 on a fast track.
"(Siete de Oros) passed me and my horse changed leads, but I had a lot of horse," Velasquez said. "My horse tried to get out, fought a little bit, changed leads, and came back again."
Ramon Preciado, trainer of Siete de Oros, said the blinkers improved his contender. Siete de Oros, a Pennsylvania-bred son of A. P. Warrior, was making his first start away from Parx Racing, where he recently finished third in the Dec. 8 Pennysylvania Nursery Stakes. He was a $2,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale in 2011.
"He ran the way we expected him to run," Preciado said. "We thought the blinkers helped him a little bit. He had run a couple of races before and was a little green. With the blinkers, he was paying more attention."
"Very, very game," Remedio said of her mount. "I didn't expect to be sitting back. Because he did have blinkers on, I thought I'd be sitting closer to the lead. He settled in very nicely and made a very, very nice move."
Bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall out of the Stravinsky mare Life Happened, Vyjack has now earned $202,200.
In the Busanda, Princess of Sylmar dominated five other 3-year-old fillies going a mile and 70 yards. The Majestic Warrior filly poured it on the stretch after stalking fourth behind the early pacesetters, opening her 7 1/2-length advantage from the three-sixteenth pole to the wire under jockey Chris DeCarlo. She ran a mile in 1:37.39 and finished the distance in 1:41.27.
It was a third straight win from four starts for Pennsylvania-bred Princess of Sylmar, trained by Todd Pletcher for King of Prussia Stable. After finishing fourth going 5 1/2 furlongs first out in October at Penn National Race Course, she rebounded one month later with a 19-length romp in a one-mile maiden event there. She next scored an easy 5 1/4-length win in a Dec. 13 optional claimer at Aqueduct going the Busanda distance Dec. 13.
"This is a nice filly," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to Pletcher. "We've always had high hopes for her. She tipped her hand a little bit over the summer. Obviously you're surprised when they break their maiden by 19 lengths, but she had trained like a nice filly. I am hoping she'll stay here in New York."
DeCarlo kept the chestnut filly fourth behind an early pace set by Kiss the Lady, who went a quarter in :24.08 and a half in :48.65 with Ruby Lips a length back in second. Turning for home through three-quarters in 1:13.08, Ruby Lips poked a head in front, but Princess of Sylmar split horses and powered away with a furlong to go to the finish.
"She felt great," DeCarlo said. "She broke, she put me in a really good position, and I bided my time all the way to the quarter pole. I knew once the hole opened up she would go right on through. When I called on her, she just took off. I was sitting inside, just waiting for the pocket to open up. She kind of idled a little bit when she made the lead. She was looking around, but I'm sure if someone came to her she would have taken off again."
Behind the winner, Ruby Lips and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. drifted out to interfere with Asiya under Eddie Castro. Following a stewards' inquiry and jockey's claim of foul by Castro, she was placed third and Asiya was moved up to second.
Princess of Sylmar returned $3.90, $2.50, and $2.10 while Asiya paid $3.70 and $2.70 and Ruby Lips brought $3.10. Coconut Shrimp, By Golly Molly, and Kiss the Lady completed the order of finish.
Princess of Sylmar was bred by Ed Stanco out of the Catienus mare Storm Dixie. The Busanda improved her earnings to $128,220.