04/19/2013 10:43AM

Kentucky Derby: Vyjack has first work since Wood Memorial

David Grening
Vyjack, most recently third in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, rolls around in his pen following his half-mile breeze Friday at the Fair Hill training center.

FAIR HILL, Md. – A visit to the bucolic Fair Hill training center on the Maryland-Delaware border wasn’t originally on the agenda for Vyjack. But if he wins the 139th Kentucky Derby in two weeks, the gelding’s 13-day stay here may prove to be one of the reasons.

The relaxed atmosphere, a near-empty dirt track on which to train, and a variety of equine-therapy equipment have all seemed to benefit Vyjack, who emerged from a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 6 at Aqueduct with a respiratory infection.

“He’s enjoying every minute of it,” trainer Rudy Rodriguez said Friday. “I told him, ‘When you get back to Aqueduct, this is over.’ Who knows? If he wins the Derby, maybe we’ll come over here for the Preakness.”

Vyjack, a gelding by Into Mischief, brings solid credentials to the Derby, as his four victories include the Grade 2 Jerome and Grade 3 Gotham.

On Friday, Vyjack had the first of two pre-Kentucky Derby workouts by breezing an easy half-mile in 51.64 seconds over the dirt surface.

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With Rodriguez aboard for the move, Vyjack went an opening eighth in 13.57 seconds, the quarter in 26.65, and then came home his second quarter in 24.99 with a little urging from Rodriguez. Vyjack galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.87.

Though it would end up being the slowest of 10 workouts at the distance on a cloudy, misty morning, Rodriguez was happy enough with what he felt underneath him.

“I like what he did,” Rodriguez said. “Nice, comfortable.”

Vyjack has a history of being a handful, and he was a bit antsy before the work, as Rodriguez brought the horse up while the tractors were still renovating the surface. Vyjack acted up a little, forcing Rodriguez to have groom Carlos Torres take him for a little walk.

The first one on the track just before 9 a.m., Vyjack jogged the wrong way, stopped, and took a sharp left turn when he saw someone near the rail. Rodriguez got Vyjack’s attention, and the rest of the training session went without a hitch.

“He was full of himself,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been much more aggressive the last three days at least, like he was looking for work.”

Following the work, an endoscopic examination of Vyjack’s lungs was clean.

Also after the work, Vyjack got to roll around in a round pen, which he has done every day he has been here.

“This is pretty much his routine,” Rodriguez said.

One of the reasons Vyjack came to Fair Hill was to spend some time in the facility’s hyperbaric chamber. He went into the chamber several times for about an hour each visit. Horses in a hyperbaric chamber breathe pure oxygen under pressure, and the oxygen gets delivered to damaged cells to help heal the diseased or injured tissues.

Rodriguez also took advantage of the cold-water spa, which allows a horse to stand in circulating ice water. At the track, a horse usually stands with its front legs in a tub of ice.

Rodriguez noted that trainers Graham Motion and Michael Matz – who have both won the Kentucky Derby – are based here. “That can’t be all bad,” he said.

Vyjack was to end his stay at Fair Hill on Saturday afternoon, when he was to board a van headed for Louisville, Ky., and Churchill Downs.

Vyjack likely will get to Churchill on Sunday morning, accompanied by Rodriguez. The two will be stabled in Dale Romans’s barn. All eyes will be on Vyjack, as he will be under 24-hour video surveillance as a condition of Rodriguez getting licensed in Kentucky.

Rodriguez, who recently served a 20-day suspension for two positive tests for the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory flunixin, said he doesn’t mind the scrutiny as much as his owner, David Wilkenfeld, who wondered why the entire Derby field won’t be under round-the-clock surveillance.

“I told him, ‘You don’t need to worry; you got a good horse,’ ” Rodriguez said. “I don’t worry about nobody else. I worry about what we’re doing.”

If Friday was an indication, Vyjack and Rodriguez are doing just fine.