• Comma to the Top possible for G1 Carter Handicap following gutsy G3 Tom Fool win
• Other Gotham Day runners doing well Sunday morning
The victory gave Vyjack, who is unbeaten in four starts, 50 points in the new “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying system, which likely is enough to put him in the starting gate at Churchill Downs on May 4.
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing yet,” said Rodriguez of Vyjack’s upside. “I think he’s still got more. He’s big and strong, so hopefully he’ll keep growing and keep running. We’re very, very impressed with what he did yesterday.”
Ridden by Joel Rosario for the first time in the Gotham, Vyjack, who had set or pressed the pace in his previous three starts, raced in 10th around the clubhouse turn and was in eighth when the field reached the quarter pole. Angled outside, the gelding blew past his competition in the stretch and won going away.
“I was looking for him to run that way, taking dirt in the face because we have been working with him like that,” said Rodriguez. “He’s a type of horse where if you grab him, he wants to go, go, go. I told that to Joel, and I guess he just grabbed the reins. He said he was a little concerned because when the other horse pushed him outside he was [wider than he wanted to be], but it looked like he did everything he was supposed to do. We were very, very happy to see him do what he did yesterday, especially when everything was winning close to the pace.”
Rodriguez noted how Vyjack has matured since his victory in the Grade 2 Jerome on January 5.
“His mind is more settled,” said Rodriguez. “Pretty much, you have to let him do what he wants to do without pushing him.”
Vyjack’s owner, David Wilkenfeld of Pick Six Racing, said after yesterday’s race that he and Rodriguez will keep the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial over Aqueduct’s main track on April 6 as their next objective.
“He was training before on the main track, and he ran very good [in a maiden special weight in December and the Traskwood overnight stakes on December on the main track],” said Rodriguez. “So far, he’s been very good, so, hopefully he’ll keep going that way, and, hopefully we’ll keep him sound.”
Rodriguez expressed no disappointment over Head Heart Hoof’s third-place finish in yesterday’s Grade 3 Tom Fool, won by Comma to the Top. Head Heart Hoof, a 7-year-old, was making his first start since winning the Grade 3 Toboggan on February 2.
“It was one of the best races he’s ever run,” said Rodriguez of Head Heart Hoof’s performance in the Tom Fool. “I was more impressed to see him hang around with that type of horses than what he did last time [in the Toboggan]. I know last time he was a winner, but it looked like he had [Comma to the Top] beat. [Comma to the Top] was just better than us, but I was very, very happy with the way he ran. He was going very good, very comfortable. The last time [jockey Cornelio Velasquez] took a nice hold of him. Yesterday, [Velasquez] was able to let him relax and move along very comfortably with another horse. For a moment, it looked like he was going to sprint away from [Comma to the Top].”
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Trainer Peter Miller said he didn’t expect Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, and Kevin Tsujihara’s Comma to the Top to pull out a victory in yesterday’s Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap after he lost the lead in the stretch, but wasn’t surprised by the 5-year-old gelding’s tenacity.
“I thought he was beaten and that he was going to finish third,” said Miller when reached by telephone Saturday. “The horse and [jockey Joel Rosario] are both so strong and so good. I give a lot of credit to Joel for getting him to come back. It was an amazing race from an amazing horse.”
The Tom Fool was Comma to the Top’s second start in the span of a week as he had finished third in the Grade 2 San Carlos on February 23 at Santa Anita.
“We put ourselves out there and a lot of people were second guessing the decision [to ship Comma to the Top from California to New York for the Tom Fool], but I live with the horse seven days a week and know the horse,” said Miller.
The trainer added that Comma to the Top, who departed New York for California early Sunday morning, likely will make his next start within 4-6 weeks and that there’s a “very good chance” it will be the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap on April 6.
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At Belmont Park, other runners from the Gotham Day card appeared to emerge from their races well.
Grade 2 Top Flight winner Summer Applause departed Chad Brown’s New York barn early Sunday morning en route to the trainer’s winter base at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida.
“She’s great,” said Brown’s assistant Cherie DeVaux. “She came back well and I put her on the plane to Florida this morning.”
Overanalyze, beaten favorite and fifth-place finisher in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, also was bound for Palm Meadows Sunday morning.
“He pulled up great,” said Whit Beckman, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “No real excuse for him from a physical standpoint. We sent him back to Florida and Todd will take a look at him.”
Overanalyze was one of two runners on the card for owner Mike Repole, who also had New York-bred Johannesburg Smile finish seventh in the Grade 3 Tom Fool.
“He pulled up well also,” said Beckman. “I think with yesterday’s track he would have been better being forwardly placed – with his running style, he wasn’t going to get there. I think a little more distance is going to be in his near future. He looked like he was getting strongest about the time the wire hit, and I think a little more ground would have been our answer there.”
Elnaawi, third in the Gotham, appeared to emerge from the race in good shape and the Shadwell Stable representative could make his next appearance in the Grade 1, $1 million, 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 6.
“Great run, we were happy with him,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “He appears fine now and the plan is the Wood.”
Magnuson added that Godolphin Racing’s Consortium, fourth in Saturday’s Tom Fool, might also run back on April 6 in the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap at seven furlongs.
“He came out great,” Magnuson said. “Unlucky at the break, a little flat-footed, but good run, good fight. We’d absolutely look at the Carter – good timing.”