Updated on 04/05/2013 11:25PM

Wood Memorial: Verrazano, Vyjack head 10-horse field for Aqueduct's Kentucky Derby prep

John Duca/Tom Cooley Photography
Verrazano, winning the Tampa Bay Derby, drew post 8 for Saturday's $1 million Wood Memorial.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - These should be giddy times for David Wilkenfeld, owner of the undefeated Vyjack, who enters Saturday’s $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct as the second choice on the morning line to fellow undefeated 3-year-old Verrazano.

However, in addition to answering questions about his horse and the prospects of the Kentucky Derby, Wilkenfeld this week has had to answer questions about his trainer, Rudy Rodriguez. On Thursday, Rodriguez was scheduled to return from a 20-day suspension for two positives for the therapeutic medication Flunixin, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory also known as banamine.

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

Last week, it was revealed that Rodriguez has a third Flunixin positive that could lead to more penalties at a later date. State officials have said the positive test – which was found to be on Majestic Marquet, the winner of a race here March 10 – is still under investigation, which is why no penalties have been announced.

“I feel bad for Rudy. It’s much tougher on him than me,” Wilkenfeld said Wednesday morning. “It’s a little bit of a distraction. The fact I have to talk about this as part of the process is not something I really enjoy doing. I’m going to try and not let it be a distraction. Things are going too well.”

Wilkenfeld said he stands by his trainer, whom he gave his only horse to last summer. . As evidence of that, Wilkenfeld told Daily Racing Form that he is matching the $20,000 reward previously announced by horse owner Michael Imperio for information that would lead to exonerating Rodriguez from this most recent positive test.

Imperio and Gustavo Rodriguez, Rudy’s brother and assistant trainer, said last week that the amount of banamine found in Majestic Marquet’s system is so high that it leads them to believe they were set up.

“They need to get the facts out there,” Wilkenfeld said.

On Wednesday, the New York Racing Association and New York Gaming Commission announced enhanced security measures would be in place for the Wood, similar to what was put in place for last year’s Belmont Stakes and Travers. Blood tests were to be taken on all 10 runners Wednesday and 24-hour security was to be placed on each horse beginning Wednesday afternoon following the arrival from Florida of Verrazano, Normandy Invasion, and Freedom Child. Unlike the Belmont Stakes, however, horses will not be put in one barn.

“The coordinated efforts between NYRA and the Gaming Commission demonstrate that New York is committed to working together to ensure integrity and equine health and safety,” David Skorton, NYRA’s chairman, said in a press release.

The troubles surrounding Rodriguez cannot overshadow the fact the Wood is shaping up a terrific race. In addition to Vyjack and Verrazano, the field includes Normandy Invasion, who got beat a nose here in last fall’s Remsen, Elnaawi, a troubled third in the Gotham, and Mr Palmer, winner of the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel.

Vyjack will attempt to win his third consecutive graded stakes this year and improve his record to 5 for 5. He went 2 for 2 over Aqueduct’s main track last fall and comes off wins in the Grade 2 Jerome and, most recently, the Grade 3 Gotham, two-turn races over Aqueduct’s inner track.

Vyjack has trained very well since, firing a bullet five furlongs in 59.07 seconds on March 22 and then a six-furlong move in 1:12.63 last Saturday.

Vyjack will break from post 5 under Joel Rosario, who one week ago won the $10 million Dubai World Cup aboard Animal Kingdom..

Verrazano, installed by NYRA’s Eric Donovan as the 4-5 morning-line favorite, has vaulted to the top of many handicapper’s Kentucky Derby lists with three powerful victories in as many starts. Most recently, he won the Tampa Bay Derby over a track that he didn’t particularly like, according to jockey John Velazquez.

Verrazano will attempt to give trainer Todd Pletcher his third Wood victory in the last four years. In 2010, Eskendereya won the race by 9 3/4 lengths, but got hurt before he made it to Louisville.

Pletcher said Verrazano reminds him of Eskendereya “in terms of some of the things he’s done in the mornings. He’s had some gallop outs that we rarely see. Eskendereya was one of them that we saw stuff like that.”

Verrazano drew post 8 and will be ridden by Velazquez.

The late entry of Chrisandthecapper, a sprint winner here March 9, adds some pace to the race. He drew the rail.

Freedom Child, a front-running maiden winner going 1 1/8 miles last month at Gulfstream, will break from post 10.

In between those two are Normandy Invasion, Quinzieme Monarque, Elnaawi, Vyjack, Mr Palmer, Always in a Tiz, Verrazano, and Go Get the Basil.

The Wood, which offers 170 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby –100 to the winner – is one of five graded stakes to be run here Saturday. The Wood is race 11 on a 12-race card.