04/30/2013 3:30PM

Kentucky Derby: Rodriguez stays focused on Vyjack amid controversy

Barbara D. Livingston
Rudy Rodriguez with Vyjack, whose stall in barn 4 at Churchill is monitored by video surveillance, a condition mandated by the KHRC when Rodriguez’s trainer’s license was approved.

Though he is stabled well off the beaten path from wh ere the majority of Kentucky Derby horses are housed this week at Churchill Downs, trainer Rudy Rodriguez can’t hide.

Literally, his every move – or at least those of his first Derby starter, Vyjack – is being watched. While round-the-clock security will be provided for all Derby horses beginning Wednesday, Vyjack has been subject to 24-hour surveillance since his arrival April 20, with four cameras installed in the gelding’s stall in barn 4.

That was a condition mandated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in exchange for granting Rodriguez a trainer’s license to run Vyjack in Saturday’s $2 million Kentucky Derby.

“It’s hard,” Rodriguez said in a recent interview. “You go through all this or you don’t want to go. If you train horses and you don’t want to think of the Derby, you might as well not be in the game.”

Though viewed by some outsiders as an overnight sensation, Rodriguez, a native of Mexico, has been involved in racing in the U.S. for more than two decades.

Before he started training in February 2010, Rodriguez worked for trainers Richard Dutrow Sr., Richard Dutrow Jr., and the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.

“You’ve got to be very, very lucky to work with those kinds of people,” said Rodriguez, who turns 41 on Wednesday. “[Dutrow Sr.] used to be very demanding, but he used to be very good. He taught me a lot. Rick, too, he gave me an opportunity. Bobby used to treat me very good.”

Rodriguez galloped Empire Maker for Frankel before his victory in the 2003 Wood Memorial. Empire Maker, who came up with a foot issue Derby week, finished second to Funny Cide in that year’s Kentucky Derby.

Rodriguez was an exercise rider and a jockey, riding good horses in the morning, mostly bad ones in the afternoon. From 1992-2010, he rode 221 winners from 3,901 mounts.

“I was working a lot of horses for a lot of people and riding the worst ones,” Rodriguez said.

Since he began training, Rodriguez has won 364 races from 1,621 starters and was the leading trainer at the 2010 Belmont Park fall meet.

That success, combined with his recent 20-day suspension for two overages of the medication Flunixin − or banamine, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug − and his past association with Dutrow Jr., has made Rodriguez a lightning-rod for controversy. A third Flunixin positive, reported to be at an absurdly high level, is being investigated by New York racing officials and could lead to further penalties.

Rodriguez’s tenure as an employee of Dutrow Jr., now serving a 10-year suspension from New York regulators for multiple rules violations, dominated the discussion at his recent Kentucky hearing. In 2007, Rodriguez was suspended, along with Dutrow and Dutrow’s assistant, for his role in providing misinformation about the horse Wild Desert before his win in the 2005 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine. At the time, Rodriguez was just an exercise rider.

What was once a close relationship between Rodriguez and Dutrow deteriorated when Rodriguez went out on his own in 2010.

“I think he got upset when I left,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to leave on good terms.”

Before Dutrow was ruled off the grounds, he and Rodriguez were stabled at Aqueduct but rarely spoke. Dutrow declined to speak about him now.

“I said, ‘Good morning,’ and that was it,” Rodriguez said.

Jim Riccio Sr., one of the sharpest claiming owners on the New York Racing Association circuit, had horses with Dutrow for many years and has now moved some to Rodriguez.

“Rick told me probably 10 years ago, when Rudy goes out on his own he’s going to be excellent; he knows what’s wrong with the horses when he gets on them,” Riccio said. “[Dutrow] said he’s going to be a good trainer, and I value Rick’s opinion. When Rudy came out and started doing well I wasn’t surprised.”

That Rodriguez still gets on horses every morning is viewed as a big advantage by Riccio.

“When you know what’s bothering them then you can help them,” Riccio said. “He’s definitely not an overnight sensation. He’s a well-liked guy. A lot of Rick’s owners wanted to give him horses.”

A lot did. Rodriguez, who is ably assisted by his brother Gustavo, has built an 80-to-90 horse stable. He recently sent 20 head to Monmouth Park.

Rodriguez said he didn’t necessarily want to be that big, but he is trying to accommodate all his clients who want to race in New York.

“To keep horses and feed them the right way costs a lot of money,” Rodriguez said. “If you try to cut corners you can save money. I don’t want to do that. I want to try and give the horses the best care.”

Rodriguez’s work ethic has caught the eye of many horsemen. Dale Romans, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer of 2012, first met Rodriguez in 2008, when Rodriguez got on horses for him in Dubai. Romans was impressed enough with Rodriguez that he was a character witness for him at Rodriguez’s Kentucky licensing hearing.

“I felt there was an injustice going on here,” said Romans, in whose barn Vyjack is residing this week. “I have no problem vouching for Rudy. Everybody in New York knows Rudy’s barn. He’s always there. There’s no overnight [success] in this business.”

Rodriguez’s work with Vyjack is testament to his horsemanship skills. Vyjack was a difficult gelding to train early in his career, but Rodriguez, who gets on Vyjack almost daily, got the horse to relax so much so that he came from second-to-last to win the Grade 3 Gotham.

Vyjack, owned by entrepreneur David Wilkenfeld, suffered his first loss when third in the Wood Memorial. The horse came out of the race with a respiratory infection and spent 13 days at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, where he received several treatments in a hyperbaric chamber.

Despite Rodriguez’s recent trouble, Wilkenfeld said he never thought about moving the horse to another trainer.

“I was by his side all the way,” Wilkenfeld said. “I never spoke to another trainer. I never thought about another trainer. He’s my guy. He’s done a tremendous job with the horse. I’ve developed a friendship with him. He’s done right be me and right by the horse. He runs a professional operation. He has to put up with a lot of [nonsense], but I never let it distract me.”

Rodriguez said he won’t let the scrutiny interfere with his first Derby experience.

“It’s everybody’s dream, for a jockey, for a trainer, for an owner,” Rodriguez said about the Derby. “If you’re in this business just to try and make money I don’t think it’s going to work. It’s more about the work and being in these kind of races and be able to compete in that race. That’s the goal.”

Casey Ennis More than 1 year ago
1995 Thunder Gulch (USA) ch. c. 1992 Gulch (USA) - Line of Thunder (USA) by Storm Bird (CAN) 11-d 1996 Grindstone (USA) dkb/br.c.1993 Unbridled (USA) - Buzz My Bell (USA) by Drone (USA) 1-c 1997 Silver Charm (USA) gr. c. 1994 Silver Buck (USA) - Bonnie's Poker (USA) by Poker (USA) 3-l 1998 Real Quiet (USA) b. c. 1995 Quiet American (USA) - Really Blue (USA) by Believe It (USA) 4-d 1999 Charismatic (USA) ch. c. 1996 Summer Squall (USA) - Bali Babe (USA) by Drone (USA) 10-a 2000 Fusaichi Pegasus (USA) b. c. 1997 Mr. Prospector (USA) - Angel Fever (USA) by Halo (USA) 8-c 2001 Monarchos (USA) gr/ro.c. 1998 Maria's Mon (USA) - Regal Band (USA) by Dixieland Band (USA) 4-r 2002 War Emblem (USA) dkb/br.c.1999 Our Emblem (USA) - Sweetest Lady (USA) by Lord At War (ARG) 20-b 2003 Funny Cide (USA) ch.g. 2000 Distorted Humor (USA) - Belle's Good Cide (USA) by Slewacide (USA) 6-d 2004 Smarty Jones (USA) ch.c. 2001 Elusive Quality (USA) - I'll Get Along (USA) by Smile (USA) 1-s 2005 Giacomo (USA) gr.c. 2002 Holy Bull (USA) - Set Them Free (USA) by Stop the Music (USA) 2-d 2006 Barbaro (USA) b.c. 2003 Dynaformer (USA) - La Ville Rouge (USA) by Carson City (USA) 16 - h 2007 Street Sense (USA) dkb/b..c. 2004 Street Cry (IRE) - Bedazzle (USA) by Dixieland Band (USA) 22 - b 2008 Big Brown (USA) b..c. 2005 Boundary (USA) - Mien (USA) by Nureyev (USA) 5 - h 2009 Mine That Bird (USA) b. g. 2006 Birdstone (USA) - Mining My Own (USA) by Smart Strike (CAN) 23 - b 2010 Super Saver (USA) b. c. 2007 Maria's Mon (USA) - Supercharger (USA) by A.P. Indy (USA) 1 - s 2011 Animal Kingdom (USA) ch. c. 2008 Leroidesanimaux (BRZ) - Dalicia (GER) by Acatenango (GER) 1 - h 2012 I'll Have Aother ch. c. 2009 Flower Alley (USA) - Arch's Gal Edith (USA) by Arch (USA) 23 - b after 2008 synthetic drug tests where used and developed. Where's Baffert? Where's lukas? In fairness to baffert, bodemeister ran his heart out that day.
Charles Levy More than 1 year ago
OK !!! Rudy isn't a juicer ! He is a THERAPUTIC trainer !!! My question is if Flunixin - Banamine is a QUOTE THERAPTIC !! LEGAL but not on race day . Plus it doesn't help the outcome of a race . Then what such stiff penalty for a narogram overage ???? He has paid 11k in fines for not one not two but four overagaes !!! The orginal days were 40 reduced to 20 . Now why is such great trainer trying to get so close with a THERAPUTIC drug that doesn't help the outcome of a race but has stiff penalty if caught on race day ? When in doubt use further out !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How do you make the same mistake more then 3 times on THERAPUTIC DRUG !!!!
michael stapler More than 1 year ago
After all the times Rudy beat me with CRAP JUICED horses, i want to see his horse finish up the track with parts scattered all over. Yep. I really don't give a hoot to his horses welfare. My biggest joy would be for one to drop dead right on Rudy and take him out too........ How was that for claridy on the subject? .......And the best part. i get to see 4 different angles when it happens.
WafflesCharly More than 1 year ago
Hey, I know I therapist you can talk to....
Tony Pastrimi More than 1 year ago
What does that tell you, when the ONLY way Kentucky grants Rudy a license to train is if they put in 4 cameras in his stall ?. Funny how as a jockey he complains that he never rode the good horses, yet as a Super Trainer does he give the 5% jockeys a leg up on his horses? I don't think so. BTW, how's the $50,000 reward coming along with the capture of Rudy's 3rd or 4th positive . I hear it's a toss up between Mark Magwire & Lance Armstrong as FBI's #1& #2 suspect
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Why do you think Baffert is "sitting out" this Derby? He gave it his best shot last year & maybe he can only pay to play every other year. Don't look for the other hop trainer from CA who did well last year to hit the board, either....
WafflesCharly More than 1 year ago
So many haters giving opinions here. It's good to see though that the vast majority of bloggers here reside comfortably in a big glass house. What makes Ruddy so bad?...or worse than others? He was not a successful jockey?....neither was Baffert Had a overage in medication?......so did Baffert, Pletcher, Mott, Zito etc etc.... Worked for Dutro?......he did also for Frankel who trusted him with his best horse...and Frankel was no dummy, neither is Romas So, I'm still waiting on a good argument from some of the brilliant minds that inflight us in this wonderful blogging space......come on...don't be shy, I still have hope someone will say something smart from here to Saturday. VJack can run dead last on Derby day, but the feat of getting one horse to that gate in Saturday is worth recognition regardless of who you are, where you were born, and who you worked for.......good luck Ruddy, and to the other 18 horses tha proved their worth up this point!!
michael stapler More than 1 year ago
Hey waffle head. HE CHEATS. How do i kow??? Because like I said 100x before. i do this for a living and he is one of 3 guys that screw up my percentages on a regular basis. No One os THAT good to make horses run THAT fast THAt quick.
WafflesCharly More than 1 year ago
Oh, Stapler Head, I didn't realize you are one of those Scooby Do types..."if it weren't for those damn kids, I would've gotten away with it" FYI. I do this for a living too. It sucks when they keep besting you in unfair ways....it does...no argument there, but sadly, the name of the is win, and if you are it willing to roll like them, then do something else....no shame in not wanting to compete and win under cheat-like circumstances. That's why I turned my trainers license in...there a lot of other jobs in the track.........back to my point.......it's not 3 guys that mess your percentage....there's many more,but to get a horse to the Derby......I'm sorry....you had to do more rights than wrongs in your decision making process.... Hope it turns around for Stapples.....good luck.
Casey Ennis More than 1 year ago
Why is Richard dutry just totally now allowed to train anywhere then parx. Parx only did it to full fields and are trying to join the big leagues with the casino money. If there's mounting evidence against Richy, to the point he doesn't want a appeal hearing, you sound smart, its obvious. Now there's zero chance that rudy never knew, or saw it happened, or could, and ill use could very cautious participate, Look at the derby results since 08 when drug tests were first used in the derby, all beyers, rags, througraph numbers are much slower then from 2000 to 2008.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
didn't know vy had resp infect, must toss now from exotics, yum brands + a gelding
Bob Adams More than 1 year ago
What does Rudy Rodriguez have in common with Harness racing's Lou Pena besides the same birth country. They both use the same meds cabinet
Casey Ennis More than 1 year ago
Exactly!!!!!!! What's even funnier, I run a race book. Richard wojico was run off the meadowlands and freehold. Also couldn't ride for a year. Guy was at my book every day, betting camel races if we offered them. lol. Now Cal expo allows him to ride there?? You have to be nuts to bet Cal expo. Purse is 3k. Driver gets 300 for the win, horse is 2 to 5, you think you hold that horse back and bet the field, which makes more??? Then win or the cashing of the ticket. Case closed.
Kevin Potts More than 1 year ago
If Dale Romans vouches for him then he is of high quality.
Joey W More than 1 year ago
I am guessing you know Dale Romans or his wife Tammy.
Steve H More than 1 year ago
this is not aquaduct..