02/26/2013 1:05PM

Gotham Stakes: Vyjack gives owner first shot at Kentucky Derby

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Michael Amoruso
Vyjack might give $3.3 million pick-six winner David Wilkenfeld a shot at the Kentucky Derby as an owner.

David Wilkenfeld has already made the score of a lifetime that most horseplayers can only dream about. In 2008, he had the sole winning ticket of a $3.3 million pick six at Santa Anita.

Five years later, Wilkenfeld is on the cusp of being able to live the dream that virtually every horse owner wants to experience. As the owner of Vyjack, Wilkenfeld has an undefeated 3-year-old who could be on his way to the Kentucky Derby.

Wilkenfeld will find out Saturday how much of a reality that dream could become when Vyjack faces his sternest test to date in the Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. The winner of the Gotham earns 50 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, to be run May 4 at Churchill Downs.

“The opportunity to have a horse in the Derby – as a longtime fan – you can imagine it’s a huge thrill, a dream I never thought could happen,” Wilkenfeld, 55, said. “We’re not that far off. I know everything has to go right. Just to have your horse in the Futures as one of 23, I feel like it’s a nice accomplishment.”

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

Vyjack, named after Wilkenfeld’s parents, Vivienne and Jack, was one of 23 individual horses offered by Churchill Downs in the first pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager on Feb. 8-10. Vyjack, trained by Rudy Rodriguez, closed at odds of 49-1, the 14th betting choice among 24, including a mutuel field that consisted of 346 horses.

Vyjack, a gelding, is the first horse Wilkenfeld purchased at auction. Wilkenfeld paid $100,000 for Vyjack at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training last May at Timonium, Md.

Vyjack was the top choice on Wilkenfeld’s short list of potential purchases. Wilkenfeld worked with Sohby Sonbol, the former racing manager for Ahmed Zayat’s racing operation, in selecting Vyjack.

Wilkenfeld liked Vyjack’s pedigree – he’s by the Grade 1 stakes-winning freshman sire Into Mischief and is a half-brother to the multiple stakes-placed Prime Cut. Deeper in the pedigree is Miss Slewpy, the winner of the Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct in 1996, when the race was run at 1 1/4 miles.

Wilkenfeld was also impressed with Vyjack’s three-furlong workout in 34.40 seconds.

“This was the one I really wanted,” said Wilkenfeld, who had previously owned a few claiming horses. “It was early on in the sale, [and] I got him for the price I was willing to go to. I looked at some of the others, and I put a pretty tight budget on them, and they weren’t as exciting to me anyway. I wanted to get my feet wet. The rest, so far, has been a great ride.”

Wilkenfeld sent the horse to Bruce Jackson at Fair Hill to get him started. Vyjack was extremely studdish, according to Wilkenfeld, so Jackson recommended gelding the horse.

“You never want to geld a horse before you run him, but we spoke to the consignor, who confirmed what Bruce said about the horse [being aggressive],” Wilkenfeld said. “I’d rather have a racehorse that could do something than wait around and fight the horse. And he’s still aggressive. I listened to people who knew best.”

Wilkenfeld gave the gelding to Rodriguez to train. Wilkenfeld liked that Rodriguez didn’t have a lot of high-profile horses and that, as a former jockey, he got on many of his horses himself in the morning.

“He can get on your horse every morning; he’s been around the game a long time,” Wilkenfeld said. “I thought he would be a great guy to work with. With a one-horse stable, you don’t want to get lost in a big operation. The horse is a little difficult, as you can see in some of his races.”

Vyjack debuted Nov. 10 at Aqueduct, winning a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by 1 3/4 lengths. Among those he beat were Clawback, who has since won two straight, including the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, and Orb, who has since won three straight, including last Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream.

On Dec. 9, Vyjack won the Traskwood Stakes by 5 3/4 lengths over Always in a Tiz, who came back to lose by a neck in the Smarty Jones last month before finishing a well-beaten fifth in the Southwest on Feb. 18.

Vyjack made his two-turn debut in the Grade 2 Jerome on Jan. 5, winning by a head over a stubborn Siete de Oros. Vyjack showed how difficult he could be as he was trying to bear out under Cornelio Velasquez.

That led Wilkenfeld to make a rider change to Joel Rosario for the Gotham, an unorthodox move considering Velasquez was 3-for-3 on the gelding.

“I just think Cornelio is better with horses that aren’t as aggressive,” Wilkenfeld said. “I just felt they were fighting each other a little bit. I thought there were other guys that were a good fit, and when [Rosario] became available, I decided to make a change. It was not an easy thing to do. We had a lot of success together; it was just something I thought gave us our best shot to win going forward.”

That move illustrates Wilkenfeld’s mentality of not following conventional wisdom. He displayed that mentality five years ago when he put together a $4,320 pick-six ticket that included a 33-1 shot, Paparazzi Charm, who hadn’t been out in eight months and hadn’t won in two years. By virtue of that horse winning a claiming race, Wilkenfeld had the lone winning pick-six ticket worth $3.3 million.

“It didn’t change my life much, except it was a great moment in terms of all the efforts I put into handicapping,” Wilkenfeld said. “I was a little bit in shock; it didn’t sink in right away.”

Wilkenfeld made his play at the Meadowlands, where some friends of his were supposed to show but never did. In 2003, he had shared in a pick-six ticket worth $1.3 million at Churchill Downs.

Wilkenfeld grew up on Long Island, not far from Belmont Park, and began handicapping races from a young age. He would wager at the New York City OTB teletheaters in Manhattan, where he was introduced to Ragozin sheets.

In addition to his pick-six success, Wilkenfeld won $125,000 in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at Santa Anita in 2009.

Wilkenfeld, who is president of the online retailer Promgirl.com, said he believes the industry needs to offer more online handicapping contests with big prizes.

“Racing needs to adapt a little bit,” Wilkenfeld said. “If they do, they have great content. It’s a great sport. People need to change with the times and focus on a marketing opportunity where the bettor can wager a small amount of money but win big.”

Wilkenfeld, it seems, has been on a personal and professional winning streak. Five months ago, his girlfriend, Tanja, gave birth to the couple’s son, Nikola. Around the same time, Wilkenfeld purchased a Tribeca penthouse apartment that published reports said was on the market for $16.5 million.

“I got a 5-month-old son, a great girlfriend, a good business, and what looks like a really good horse,” Wilkenfeld said. “Life is good.”

wolves More than 1 year ago
I always find it amusing to read these "stay loyal to your jockey" comments.....if "your jockey" had the chance to ride a better horse, he'd consider all angles (how often do I ride for this trainer, how often do I ride for the other trainer, does the trainer race high quality stock, how much better is the other horse, etc). All angles are based on one thing: what is best for the jockey.
allan More than 1 year ago
hey bruce baudoux don't knock cornelio he's not the only rider to sit on a favorite and disappoint ,sometimes horses don't fire this is horse racing my friend .Respect the jockeys they are the ones out there.
MarleneW More than 1 year ago
Well said !!! Well said !!!!
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Hey Allan, sorry if I have ruffled your feathers. I have no lack of respect for jockeys so I don't need a sermon about respecting riders, I have no reason to lie to you sir, so believe me when I tell you this. My best friend of 25 years was the leading rider here in Canada for many years andf then ventured south to California where he led the rider standings there for several years during the years of the Shoe, Pincay, McCarron and the great riders of the 80's and 90's. I had the opportunity to meet many of these guys strictly because my friend is a great gentleman and always introduced me to his friends and associates. When you have been exposed to the best for extended periods of time, it is not that difficult to spot riders of lesser quality and the mistakes they make. I realize nobody is perfect but like and craft or trade, there ae cream rises to the top. One can't blame Joel Rosario for having a good agent who was able to persuade the owner of the horse to make the change. And now that the race has been run it looks like the correct call was made. You would have to agree that Rosario got a ton of run from this horse and the way he gallopped out certainly was impressive. I think this pairing goes on to Churchill after todays race. I wish Cornelio the very best but I don't think the Derby will be on his dance card this Spring.
Snarky More than 1 year ago
Mr. Wilk, Since you personally seem to have a direct line to LUCK CENTRAL, we'll just wish luck to Vyjack and tell him he's three now and it's time to behave himself.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
This not a good betting race; however it is a good one for watching. Due to the fallout of last weekend's Risen Star stakes, I decided to work ahead and publish my pace figures for everyone's inspection for the Gotham. The number in parentheses is the total number of furlongs representing that segment of the race; it is accompanied by the calculated feet-per-second that horse traveled in that segment. The FPS is adjusted for track variant. Champion Boy: (2) 52.8, (2) 55.5, (2) 53.7, (2.5) 51.3 - Maiden seems to be overstepping his territory, but still early in his career and as such, is still developing. Escapefromreality: (2) 53.7, (2) 54.9, (2) 53.7, (2.5) 52.3 - Slight increase in speed going down the backstrech. Kept fair amount of momentum in the last portion of the race. Pretty good effort off the bench and dangerous on that alone. Could definitely get this. Ore Pass: (2) 56.1, (2) 57.8, (2) 53.5, (1) 51.6 - Had a nice flash in the 2nd quarter, but lost over 4 FPS average in the 3rd quarter; was still good enough to hang on. However, so-so victory kept him in the barn since. Doesn't appear suited for 2 turns. Amerigo Vespucci: (2) 53.6, (2) 55.1, (2) 53.9, (2.5) 51.3 - Expected something better in this last race after having a nice 3rd in the Jerome. Not excited about his chances here. Transparent: (2) 53.7, (2) 51.7, (2) 53.7, (2.3) 52.9 - Took a big breateher in the 2nd quarter for this maiden win. Came back sorta, kinda...not a serious contender with this bunch. Now and Then: (2) 57.5, (2) 56.6, (1) 55.4, (1) 51.5 - Nice 1st quarter, not so bad in the 2nd but coule be a natural slowing down. Typical sprint characteristics. Uncertain going 2 turns, but this one might rate OK. Not one for bloodlines, but the Tiznow's always seem to be dangerous...especially at 2 turns. Could get a slice at a price. Siete De Oros: (2) 54.1, (2) 55.2, (2) 53.8, (2.5) 51.3 - All out to fade late. The Jerome was tough on him and pretty much the Withers showed what was left in the tank. The varying speeds shows that this guy was all out, all the time, trying in vain to win this last one. Don't believe there's much left in the tank. Vyjack: (2) 53.6, (2) 55.5, (2) 52.6, (2.3) 52.7 - Stayed pretty good in the final stages of winning the Jerome. However, this was almost 2 months ago. I don't think that he's going to get the nod, but he should make it interesting. Elnaawi: (2) 57.1, (2) 56.6, (2) 49.9, (2) 52.0 - Maiden took a huge breather in the 3rd quarter, but still maintained the lead. In deep here, especially since being off almost 2 months. Sky Captain: (4) 54.1, (2) 54.1, (2) 51.0, (1) 49.5 - Skipped out on facing Violence in the Fountain of Youth. On the surface, appears to be a good prep race by maintaining unwavering speed through 6 furlongs, but not what I would call a fast pace by any means; respectable. Could get some, but doubtful for the win. West Hills Giant: (2) 56.1, (2) 56.8, (1) 56.4, (1) 54.8 - Great prep race for this one. Has already showed being able to handle 2 turns breaking his maiden at Saratoga (albeit on the turf). Much to like: 5 fast furlongs of unwavering speed, price, recency, and making his 2nd start of the season. If I was to play this race, this one would get my interest. I have no doubt he will make this race QUITE interesting indeed! Overanalyze: (4) 54.3, (2) 53.7, (2) 52.6, (1) 52.7 - These are from last Nov's Remsen and don't really tell what is going to transpire. Normandy Invasion flopped in last week's Risen Star, but only because he was hard-pressed in the last furlong of the Remsen. Not sure what this one will do. I can't recommend him coming off the bench and meeting a few decent horses that have been racing recently. Besides, the name of this game is to win the Derby and I am pretty sure he has enough poonts to make the field. I think this guy is only in for exercise more than anything. If he makes a good effort, then I think he would be more dangerous in the upcoming Wood Memorial instead.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Thank-you Charles for your hard work. You are an inspiration to fellow handicappers. Cheers
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
Thanks! BTW: I haven't ruled out throwing $20 to win on West Hills Giant.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
He certainly was game the Giant, nice picking. Keep me informed when ya have a good one my friend. I am never to proud to take my hat off to a superior handicapper.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
I don't consider myself a superior handicapper. I knew one years ago. He passed away almost 30 years ago. Remarkable expert; he would not tell me exactly how to handicap, but talk around it. He told me that I need to read whatever books were available and to review the Daily Racing Form everyday. If you would like, you can reach me via email. chuck_sakach@hotmail.com BTW: I did throw a $20 on him to win today. No place bets for me...stupid on my part. After all, successful handicapping is all about making money and if one can find it in the Place and Show pools, then that's OK.
Tom Temple More than 1 year ago
Nice one, Charles, please feel free to publish your data on any and all future Derby preps including the Derby. You have made a believer out of me! I told my friends about West Hills Giant and they thought I was nuts. Too bad for them. Thanks again!
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
I bet him to win. I hope you used him in your exotics. I hope your buddies were envious. I think the San Felipe is next Saturday. Stay tuned. BTW: You can contact me directly through my "linkedin" page.
Tom Temple More than 1 year ago
Charles - how has this method worked for you in the past?
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
I have been experimenting with different aspects of breaking down running lines for over the last seven years. Basically, I have been using inductive reasoning to see what works. Professionally, I am a senior computer programmer/analyst and I put together an Excel workbook that: 1. Can calculate the track variant by using either Beyer or BRIS speed figure and determining the final time of the race where the 100 point score was awarded. Once you know that, you can refer to a standard parallel-time chart and determine the variant. (Since I work in FPS, I use the variant as ratio.) 2. Parses any distance from 5 to 12 furlongs (including Keeneland's about 7 furlongs on the Beard Course) with the available fractional times and points of call (which frequently do not coincide by the way). 3. I never think in terms of adding 1/5th of a second per length. 1 length is 8 feet. If a horse finishes 2 lengths behind a winner of a 6 furlong race in 1:13, then instead of thinking that the horse ran 3960 feet in 73.4 seconds, he actually ran 3944 feet in 73 seconds. This is what actually transpired. As for results: I noticed that even though Bodemeister was "faster" than I'll Have Another, I'll Have Another ran in a very controlled, unwavering type of pace. When I notice horses fluctuating greatly during the course of the race, it tells me that they were all out...especially when they show huge increases in speed in the last segment.
Tom Temple More than 1 year ago
Charles, this is absolutely amazing research, sir!
Tom Temple More than 1 year ago
Charles, did you do this for the last Derby and did you notice anything about I'll Have Another beforehand? Would you have bet on him in the Derby in other words?
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
Actually, I stumbled upon it after last year's Derby...then I kept seeing the phenomena sporadically. The thing is: The run of the mill everday racing shows a lot of distortion between segments. It seems that when you get a good crop of young horses then this sort of thing materializes. I saw it last week on Code West. It also had some things to say about I've Struck a Nerve too.
Tom Temple More than 1 year ago
Charles, not sure if you will see this or not but do you have any thoughts on the San Felipe?
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
When it comes to horses such as Vyjack, Cornelio has hands like a surgeon. He gets run from him, 3 for 3 aboard him says it all.
Tom Temple More than 1 year ago
This will be test for him. Do you think the jockey change will hurt or help him? Overanalyze seems to have the class edge here.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
I think this is a huge rider change. Joel Rosario is the heir apparent on the east coast and when the real horses return from the south we will all start to see why. I never like to see a jockey get replaced after a winning ride, let alone three winning rides but how many chances does an owner have to win the Derby? I am ssure this owner will use Velasquez again in the future, he is just trying to take an edge with a better rider, can you really blame the guy?
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
I am gonna go out on a limb here and say Tom that it will hurt this Saturday. David Winkelfeld it seems can"t do anything wrong, but I say Vyjack spits the bit and runs poorly. Bruce says its a hugh rider change, Cornelio to Rosario is NOT a hugh change, Cornelio should have never been replaced...
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Eating a little crow this afternoon Bill? This horse wouldn't have run like this for Cornelio Velasquez in a million years. Didn't Joel win another stake this afternoon as well? Comma To The Top. Face it man you have first class riders and then the rest of them. The reason Cornelio stayed put in New York this winter is because he knows come Spring time, his business gets very diluted so ya better make hay while the sun shines. I have nothing against the man, just calling like I see it.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
You should use the Daily Racing Form for reference Bill, you would clearly see the difference between Cornelio and Joel. Then all you would have to do is watch them ride against each other and it is very easy to see the difference. Like I said " huge rider change " guess the owner is justified in his call afterall.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Looks like your limb snapped right out from under you Guru
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
I am not knocking this rider but there are reasons why you don't ever see him on the favourites for the big races. Adequate but far from desirable.
Infinity More than 1 year ago
4k for 3.3mm....Awesome dude....I hope to catch that magick someday....almost hit a 93k superfecta in mile turf 1,2 4, 5..Frankel horse ran third..nevr been on turf--lol.
allan More than 1 year ago
wilkenfeld you heard it live on nyra network today cornelio should ride vyjack in the gotham stakes,cornelio keep up the good work . God don't like ugly respect to all jockeys .
MarleneW More than 1 year ago
Hey Allan i agree with you !! Cornelio should be the jockey to ride Vyjack ...And yes, people should respect the jockeys instead of shouting curses and insults to them and they can't rid a goat if given the chance!!! it makes me angry when I hear these comments..the sacrifice these jockeys make and everyday that their out there is a risk!!So people who make these comments ,if you have nothing good to say to them ,please shut up!!!!!!
MarleneW More than 1 year ago
That word was Ride not rid....
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Congrats to Vyjack on his GOTHOM victory , oh what's that , they haven't run the race yet, guess the writer should have mentioned that.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Good call John, I hope ya had a good bet on.
AndrewK More than 1 year ago
Sure can be refreshing when a real horsemen is given a chance to succeed, tired of the winners circle is becoming just another retread representative of the pletchers, assmussens, etc of the racing world. If only more owners could break the spell of illusion of corporate training methods. Why isnt longevity (which is not stamina) an attribute more trainers strive for instead of rapid repayment for investment, could that be why the stud sheds are overflowing with youngsters and 3yo derby preps have 4-6 starters?
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
You're getting too deep my man, don't let them get to you.
John More than 1 year ago
Seems like this guy is like alot of us , dreamers ! Hit a nice Pick6, get a trainer, go find a couple horse's and enjoy life ! Good for him, Ill root for him and his horse ! Great story !
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
This guy is nothing like us! He wagered four grand on the pick six, do you generally wager four grand on anything? Me either. He has an online business making millions, he bought a penthouse for sixteen million. Winning three and a half million pre tax doesn't afford you a sixteen million dollar penthouse buddy! This is a guy, with all due respect who was already living the good life and cashed in on it. God Bless him. But I can't say that I am anything like him, unfortunately. Kudos to the man and his horse, best of luck and enjoy living the dream.