Vyjack - A prime Kentucky Derby player
By Jeff Frank
(Sports Network) -
A few weeks ago, a bettor could have gotten Vyjack at 49-1 in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Pool 2 has the son of Into Mischief at 11-1 after he won Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
Vyjack was much the best coming from well off the pace to score by 2 1/4 lengths over West Hills Giant. The Rudy Rodriguez-trained gelding ran his final 2 1/2 furlongs in a brisk 30 seconds, highlighted by a 23 3/5-second quarter- mile when he moved from eighth place to first.
Vyjack's victory was not unexpected as the horse was the 2-1 second choice behind Overanalyze. Nevertheless, his running style surprised many of the bettors as he was no worse than second (1 1/2 lengths off the pace) after a half mile in all three of his previous starts.
Rodriguez hinted of a change when he gave the mount to Joel Rosario (from Cornelio Velasquez), but not many experts expected the Jerome Stakes winner to be next-to-last after the first quarter-mile.
When the first six furlongs came up in 1:12 3/5, Vyjack was still in eighth place, almost seven lengths behind the leader, West Hills Giant. From there, it was a one-horse race as the gelding cruised to victory while running the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44:09. That final time was a tick faster than multiple graded stakes winner Summer Applause (1:44:10) needed to win the Top Flight Handicap three races earlier.
Vyjack is almost guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby because the victory gave him 50 points in the standings. Another scintillating come-from-behind performance in the Wood Memorial on April 6 will make the gelding one of the betting favorites on the first Saturday in May.
As for Overanalyze, the favorite had no excuses settling for a fifth-place finish. On the other hand, it was the colt's first start since November and the racing world already has witnessed many top 2-year-olds fail to win their first start at 3 (Shanghai Bobby, Violence and Normandy Invasion to name a few).
It is interesting to note the Gotham almost mirrored the Withers Stakes, the previous 3-year-old prep race in New York. That race saw Revolutionary also come from eighth place after the first half mile to win going away.
However, there is are two main differences between the two races.
Vyjack defeated Siete de Oros, Champion Boy and Escapefromreality by three lengths, 9 3/4 lengths, and 10 lengths, respectively, while Revolutionary beat those three horses by a grand total of nine lengths. In addition, the Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-old ran his final 2 1/2 furlongs a full second slower than Vyjack.
One final note about the Gotham Stakes: The last winner of the race to come back and take the Kentucky Derby was Secretariat - all the way back in 1973.
VERRAZANO, FLASHBACK SET FOR SATURDAY PREPS
The second weekend in March is a crucial one for the top two 3-year-olds in the country. Verrazano and Flashback put their unbeaten streaks on the line in the Tampa Bay Derby and San Felipe Stakes, respectively.
Verrazano will be facing an easier field at Tampa Bay Downs, but his start is an important one nonetheless. It will be his first test going around two turns, so jockey John Velazquez must ration the colt's speed from the start.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has not won the Tampa Bay Derby since Limehouse poked his neck in front as the 4-5 favorite nine years ago. Furthermore, his horses have been favored each of the last three years (Spring Hill Farm - 2012, Brethren - 2011 and Super Saver - 2010) and all three failed to win or even finish second.
Flashback also will be favored, but his odds will be much higher than Verrazano's because the unbeaten gray colt has Goldencents to worry about.
Even though Flashback won the Robert B. Lewis in gate-to-wire fashion, don't expect Julien Leparoux (aboard Flashback) to go toe-to-toe with Goldencents on the front end. Flashback has the ability to rate, something his rival has yet to accomplish in four career starts.
Bob Baffert, Flashback's trainer, has finished second in each of the last two runnings of the San Felipe, and both horses - Bodemeister and Jaycito - went off as the favorite.