Vyjack among trio of Wood Memorial workers
Vyjack was declared ready for the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 6 after breezing on Saturday at Aqueduct.
Working in company with Aussi Austin, Vyjack was credited with a six-furlong work in 1:12 3/5 by the NYRA clocker.
Vyjack began the breeze two lengths behind Aussi Austin. After dropping back an additional length in the first furlong, Vyjack engaged Aussi Austin about 3 1/2 furlongs from the finish. Both runners were restrained in the stretch, with Vyjack finishing a head in front of his workmate.
"He came home good, was relaxed, and set himself up perfectly for the race," said owner David Wilkenfeld, who unofficially timed Vyjack in 1:13 3/5.
Gustavo Rodriguez, who was aboard Vyjack for Saturday's workout as well as his five-furlong drill on March 22, said teaching the gelding to settle behind another horse was an emphasis of this breeze.
"We wanted the other horse to go and for (Vyjack) to relax," Rodriguez said. "We want him to be relaxed, because when he runs in the Wood we want him to come from behind. I'm very, very happy with the work. We didn't want to go like last time -- we wanted to go a little slower."
Vyjack has raced exclusively at Aqueduct and is unbeaten in four starts, including a head victory in the Grade 2 Jerome in January and a 2 1/4-length win in the Grade 3 Gotham on March 2, both contested on the inner track.
"His first two races were on the main track, and he ran well in both of those races," said Wilkenfeld of Vyjack's maiden score and victory in the Traskwood overnight stakes. "I think the wider turns will suit him better, and hopefully we'll have an even, honest racetrack for the Wood and that the best horse will win."
Vyjack is expected to face another unbeaten runner, Verrazano, in the Wood.
"The waters constantly get deeper, and this is a good test for him," Wilkenfeld said. "I think Vyjack will be the best horse Verrazano has faced to date. There are some other quality three-year-olds in the race, so I think it's going to be one of the better prep races."
With exercise rider Renzo Morales up, Shadwell Stable's Elnaawi, third in the Gotham in his stakes debut, breezed five furlongs Saturday morning over Belmont Park's training track in his final serious move for the Wood Memorial.
Going out after the second renovation break and working in company with Ghareeb, a maiden three-year-old also owned by Shadwell, Elnaawi broke off at the half-mile pole, crossed the finish line in :46 4/5 and galloped out five furlongs in :59 4/5.
"He was strong through the lane," said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, of the Street Sense colt. "He started off a couple of lengths behind and caught up. Last summer he was definitely quirky; he's very professional right now. In his first two starts he had perfect trips. Going into the Gotham, we worked him behind a couple and he ran great, so we started him off behind one today, just to teach him it's okay to go by one."
Third in his debut over a sloppy track on December 8, Elnaawi broke his maiden on January 12 over a muddy, sealed inner track with a front-running, four-length score. In the Gotham, the colt was bumped at the start, then made a four-wide move from sixth on the far turn to finish 2 3/4 lengths behind winner Vyjack.
Mr Palmer, who will carry a two-race winning streak into the Wood, tuned up for the 1 1/8-mile race with a half-mile breeze Saturday morning over Belmont's training track. With exercise rider Steve Schmez in the irons, the homebred son of Pulpit was first out after the second renovation break and covered four furlongs in :48 4/5.
"He looked great," said Leana Willaford, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. "He went off nice and finished very well. Steve was just sitting on him, and he came back jumping around and feeling good."
Owned by Michael Lauffer and Gregory McDonald, Mr Palmer was well-traveled but winless as a two-year-old, missing the board at Churchill Downs, Ellis Park and Tampa Bay Downs before a third-place finish when stretched out to 1 1/16 miles in November in Louisville. Sent to New York, Mr Palmer closed from sixth to finish second after hesitating at the start on December 15, and then posted a front-running victory to break his maiden on February 17, followed by a last-to-first win in the Private Terms on March 9 at Laurel.
Meanwhile, Gotham runner-up West Hills Giant was withdrawn from consideration for the Wood Memorial due to a respiratory infection that that caused to miss a scheduled workout.
"He was due to work today," said Tonja Terranova, who assists her husband, trainer John Terranova. "He scoped dirty after his last work (March 24) and missed a couple of days. It was in his best interests to skip this work."
Terranova said West Hills Giant, a New York-bred son of Frost Giant who is 2-1-1 from six career starts, could possibly make his next start in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 13 or the Grade 3 Lexington on April 20 at Keeneland.
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