03/04/2013 3:34PM

Aqueduct: Vyjack benefiting from extended stay in New York

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Tom Keyser
Vyjack, undefeated in four starts, will aim for a third consecutive graded-stakes win in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 6.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Rudy Rodriguez’s decision to leave Vyjack in New York this winter had everything to do with the gelding’s state of mind.

So, while Rodriguez took about a dozen horses to sunny and sometimes-warm southern Florida – including his top 3-year-old filly, My Happy Face – Vyjack was left behind to endure the harsh winter weather of Queens and Aqueduct’s overly scrutinized inner track.

“He’s a little mental – that was the main reason,” Rodriguez said Sunday. “We didn’t want to go to Gulfstream. Aqueduct is like a private training center.”

Thus far, the decision has paid off handsomely, as Vyjack has won two graded stakes this winter, including Saturday’s Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham, which kept him undefeated and earned him 50 qualifying points toward the May 4 Kentucky Derby. He will have his final prep for the Derby in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial over Aqueduct’s main track April 6.

David Wilkenfeld, who owns Vyjack, said the son of Into Mischief was gelded before he ever raced because he was difficult to train. Rodriguez also found Vyjack to be a challenge when he got the gelding in his barn last summer.

“Sometimes he wants to put the brakes on,” said Rodriguez, a former jockey who gets on Vyjack himself in the mornings. “If you’re at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows, maybe there are 2,000 horses in and out, in and out. Over here, the track opens at 5:30 [a.m.], there are maybe 10 horses, and [sometimes] I can gallop him by myself.”

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Rodriguez said he can tell in Vyjack’s training that the serene environment of Aqueduct has helped him mentally.

“He’s a lot more comfortable with what he’s doing,” Rodriguez said. “In the beginning, we don’t even [give] him a chance to let him look around on the track because then he doesn’t want to move. We have to get the whip and get him going, or get the pony, or play with him a little bit. But now, he’ll stand there. His mind is more settled.”

Vyjack had raced on or near the lead in his first three starts. In the Gotham, Vyjack, ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario, settled comfortably in the early stages, sitting 10th in the 11-horse field before rallying powerfully around the turn and into the stretch. He easily dispatched of the pacesetting West Hills Giant outside the sixteenth pole and drew clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. He ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.09 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 93.

“I was very, very happy to see him do what he did, especially when everything was winning close to the pace,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez believes Vyjack has yet to show his true self.

“He don’t even know what he’s doing yet,” Rodriguez said. “I think he’s still got more. He’s nice, big, strong. Hopefully, he keeps growing and keeps learning.”

The Wood is run at 1 1/8 miles over the main track, where Vyjack won his first two races, including a Nov. 10 maiden victory over subsequent stakes winners Clawback and Orb. Vyjack also won the seven-furlong Traskwood Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths in the slop.

The Wood is expected to include Gotham second- and third-place finishers West Hills Giant and Elnaawi. Normandy Invasion, the runner-up in the Remsen here last fall and the fifth-place finisher in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds last month, also is pointing to the race.

Siete de Oros, who finished fourth in the Gotham after running second in the Jerome and third in the Withers, is possible. However, Ramon Preciado, the owner and trainer of Siete de Oros, said he also will strongly consider the $750,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 21.

Overanalyze, last year’s Remsen winner, returned to Southern Florida on Sunday after finishing fifth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths, in the Gotham without an excuse. Jockey John Velazquez said Overanalyze was just going through the motions when he asked him for run at the three-eighths pole.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said he wanted to watch the horse train for a few weeks before deciding where he would run next. The Wood was originally on his schedule.