Grade II winner Vyjack, at this time last year a contender on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), returned from a lengthy layoff April 27 to win a seven-furlong allowance at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Pick Six Racing's 4-year-old Into Mischief gelding made his first start since a sixth in the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) at Monmouth Park last July, swinging three-wide into the stretch and edging away past the sixteenth marker under hand urging from Irad Ortiz Jr.
The final time on a fast track was 1:22.24; Vyjack scored by three-quarters of a length over Sensational Slam in a field of five older runners, paying $2.70 to win as a 3-10 choice.
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said the June 7 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park remains the target for Vyjack, who early in his 3-year-old season went undefeated in his first four starts. He won the Traskwood, Jerome (gr. II), and Gotham Stakes (gr. III), with a third in the Wood Memorial (gr. I).
"I was very happy with what I saw," Rodriguez said of Vyjack's latest effort. "I was a little concerned on the backside, because (pacesetter) Royal Currier is a tough horse to beat when he's on the lead. My horse likes to wait for horses, but having another horse as a target was good for him. (The Met) is still the target. We'll try to keep him happy until then. So far, so good."
David Wilkenfeld, who owns Pick Six Racing, said he was relieved to see Vyjack return to his winning ways. The big bay ran 18th on a sloppy, sealed track in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, then was eighth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) before his sixth in the Haskell.
He then was sent to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center, where he was diagnosed with gastric ulcers. He spent much of the time from last August to mid-March of this year rehabbing at Fair Hill Training Center near Elkton, Md., before returning to training with Rodriguez at Aqueduct.
"It was a race he needed," Wilkenfeld said. "He wasn't fully cranked. It was a good prep race. It probably was a little short for him, but he'll move forward off the race. Anytime you have a horse who was that sick and is coming off a layoff you're a little anxious. We wanted to get a race in, and we did what we needed to do to win. If he comes out of the race well, the Met Mile is our plan."
Vyjack, bred in Kentucky by Machmer Hall out of the Stravinsky mare Life Happened, was a $100,000 purchase from Pike Racing, agent, at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training. Pike pinhooked him for $45,000 from the Select Sales consignment at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky select yearling sale. The recent victory improved his record to five wins and a third from nine starts, for earnings of $593,000.