09/27/2014 2:41PM

Vyjack rallies to upset Kelso Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Vyjack (left) passes River Rocks to win the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap by a length Saturday.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The connections of Vyjack felt that their gelding had legitimate excuses in his last two graded stakes attempts and was deserving of another shot.

That opportunity came in Saturday’s Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park, and Vyjack rewarded their faith by rallying four wide in the stretch to run down the pacesetting River Rocks and win the $400,000 Kelso by a length.

River Rocks, who put away two pace challengers, finished second by 2 1/2 lengths over Itsmyluckyday, the 3-5 favorite. He was followed by Scarly Charly, Capo Bastone, Golden Ticket, and Bradester.

The win was the sixth in 14 career starts for Vyjack, owned by David Wilkenfeld and trained by Rudy Rodriguez, and pushed his career earnings to $902,500. It was his most significant victory since he took the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes over Aqueduct’s inner track in March 2013. Since then, Vyjack had gone just 1 for 9, the win coming in an allowance race at Aqueduct in April, his seasonal debut.

Wilkenfeld and Rodriguez both said poor breaks compromised Vyjack in both the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt, where he finished fourth, and the Grade 1 Forego, where he finished third.

“I think the break was the key,” Wilkenfeld said. “The Forego was a speed track. He broke last, deceptively good effort. He’d been training great.”

On Saturday, under Irad Ortiz Jr., Vyjack came away in good order and found himself a clear fourth as River Rocks, under Rajiv Maragh, set the pace, chased by Itsmyluckday, placed between horses by Paco Lopez, and Bradester, who was outside of him. The trio went the half-mile in 45.64 seconds.

Ortiz guided Vyjack four wide approaching the quarter pole, and he gradually wore down River Rocks, who had put away Itsmyluckyday and Bradester.

“My horse is not that kind of horse you can ask and then you stop because he needs time to get going again,” Ortiz said. “I don’t want to check, I don’t want any trouble. I put him on the outside, and he kept going with the pace that he had.”

Vyjack, by Into Mischief, covered the mile in 1:34.05 and returned $21.20 to win.

Though the Kelso can be used as a prep for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 31, Wilkenfeld seemed more inclined to wait for the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 29.

“I’m leaning more to the Cigar Mile,” Wilkenfeld said. “Physically, he’s always had the ability. [Mentally], I don’t know about shipping cross-country.”

The connections of Itsmyluckyday have some decisions to make after their horse threw in a clunker. Coming off a victory in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga, the Kelso was supposed to be an easy prep for a potential start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race for which he would have to be supplemented.

“It’s a bump in the road, no question about that,” Eddie Plesa Jr., the trainer of Itsmyluckyday, said. “It makes you re-evaluate the situation. We’ll see what happens.”