Vyjack winning the Traskwood Stakes in December. Photos courtesy Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Making the Grade, which will run right up until the Belmont Stakes (G1), will focus on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the 2013 Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win the 2013 Kentucky Derby (G1) based on factors such as ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
This week we take a look at Vyjack, the winner of the $200,000 Jerome Stakes (G2) on Jan. 5 at Aqueduct.
Sire (Father): Into Mischief
Dam (Mother): Life Happened, by Stravinsky
Breeder:Machmer Hall (Ky.))
Owner: Pick Six Racing
For the second straight week, the focus of this blog is a horse from the first crop of freshman sire Into Mischief. In fact, last week’s subject, Goldencents, won the Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park on Saturday, which along with Vyjack’s gutsy win in the Jerome Stakes the same day gave Into Mischief a sweep of the weekend’s graded stakes for 3-year-olds.
Goldencents had already arrived on the Triple Crown Trail with a win in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (G3) in the fall, but for Vyjack the Jerome served as a signal of his arrival in the Kentucky Derby chase.
Ability: After winning his debut at odds of nearly 18-1 in November, Vyjack has quickly made a name for himself on the path to the 2013 Kentucky Derby. He jumped from maiden race to stakes race in his second start with an effortless 5 ¾-length romp as the overwhelming favorite in the seven-furlong Traskwood Stakes in December at Aqueduct. Tested in a graded stakes in his third start, Vyjack fiercely battled after being headed in the stretch of the Jerome to nip Siete de Oros in the final strides of the one-mile and 70-yard race.
Vyjack showed the ability to run fast at two when posting a 104 Equibase Speed Figure in the Traskwood, and he improved upon that with a 106 Equibase Speed Figure in the Jerome. Most importantly, Vyjack would not be denied in the stretch of the Jerome, showing admirable determination for one final surge after he looked beaten approaching the finish line.
Now 3-for-3 with a pair of stakes wins, Vyjack looks like a serious 3-year-old, although one who will need to collect some qualifying points quickly if he is to make the 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby. The Jerome was not a “points” race under the new qualifying system for the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
UPDATE: Vyjack confirmed his status as a top contender for the Kentucky Derby with a visually impressive victory from well off the pace in the Gotham Stakes (G3) on March 2. The win earned him 50 points and almost certainly punched his ticket to Louisville for the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
Running style: Vyjack has been very close to the front early in each of his three starts, including pressing a strong early pace in his first two victories, both at sprint distances. Speed definitely is an asset for Vyjack.
The Jerome was Vyjack’s first start in a race run around two turns, a key test for 3-year-olds with Derby aspirations when evaluating their chances to excel at longer distances. He was a bit overeager when regular rider Cornelio Velasquez asked him to rate behind early leader Mudflats and pulled Velasquez up to take command on the backstretch. Given Mudflats was not going especially fast, it could just be that Vyjack’s cruising speed overwhelmed an overmatched opponent, but the ability to relax is something trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he plans to work on with his new star after the Jerome. If Vyjack can relax enough early in his races to track a solid pace and get first jump on his opponents, he could be increasingly formidable moving forward.
UPDATE: By showing the ability to come from far off the pace in his Gotham Stakes triumph on March 2, Vyjack added another component to his burgeoning resume as the calander creeps closer to the first Saturday in May.
VYJACK SHOWED GRIT BATTLING TO THE WIRE IN THE JEROME
Connections: Pick Six Racing purchased Vyjack for $100,000 at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale, the first ever auction purchase by David Wilkenfeld’s racing operation. A Manhattan-based businessman, Wilkenfeld named his racing venture after the popular pick six wager, a bet that has been especially profitable for him.
Vyjack is trained by Rudy Rodriguez, who is off to a fantastic start as a trainer after riding professionally for 18 years. While making his living as a jockey, Rodriguez served as an exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel as well as Richard Dutrow Sr. and Richard Dutrow Jr. He earned his biggest career win aboard Frost Giant in the 2008 Suburban Handicap (G1). Since shifting to training in February 2010, Rodriguez has won more than 300 races, ranking 14th among North American trainers in 2012 with 146 wins. The Mexico native was the leading trainer at the 2010 Belmont Park fall meeting.
Pedigree: Vyjack’s sire (father), Into Mischief, was a Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old who is off to a scorching start in the breeding shed. He has two graded stakes winners, Goldencents and Vyjack, from his first crop and it sure helps his visibility that both horses are on the Triple Crown trail. What has yet to be determined is whether horses sired by Into Mischief continue to improve as races get longer.
The maternal side of Vyjack’s pedigree includes several classy horses, including his older half-brother (same mother, different father) Prime Cut, who finished second in the 2011 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (G3) and third in that year’s Peter Pan Stakes (G2). The class in this pedigree, however, is primarily sprinters.
Vyjack’s dam (mother), Life Happened, was unraced but she is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter and sire Disco Rico. There is plenty of class going back in Vyjack’s pedigree as his second dam (maternal grandmother), Round It Off, was a stakes-placed sprinter. His third and fourth dams (maternal great-grandmother and maternal great-great-grandmother) also were stakes winners and produced stakes winners. His third dam, Capp It Off, produced multiple graded stakes winner Miss Slewpy, a Grade 2 winner at 1 ¼ miles.
Overall, there is plenty to like as far as class from Vyjack’s pedigree and just enough stamina (Prime Cut and Miss Slewpy) to provide hope that the 1 ¼-mile Derby distance will be within this talented gelding’s scope.