• Pletcher sets New York course for Wood contender Verrazano
• Elnaawi scheduled to breeze for Wood on Saturday at Belmont
• Ortiz brothers battle for inner track riding title
After conceding two lengths to Head Heart Hoof at the start, Vyjack drew even with his stablemate at the five sixteenths, was a half-length in front at the wire, and pulled well clear in the gallop out.
Head Heart Hoof, winner of the Grade 3 Toboggan and third in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap, was clocked in 59.72.
“Last time was easy [four furlongs in 51.23 on March 15],” said Gustavo Rodriguez, who was aboard for Friday’s workout. “It was time for him to do something. I wanted him to do something, but not crazy. He was chasing the other one. Turning for home, I asked him a little bit, and he responded nice. He galloped out nice. Beautiful. Strong. He’s worked with other horses, and nobody can keep up with him.”
Vyjack is unbeaten in four starts, all at Aqueduct. After contesting the pace and wearing down Siete de Oros to win the Grade 2 Jerome by a head in January, the gelded son of Into Mischief rallied from 10th to win the Gotham by 2 ¼ widening lengths.
Owner David Wilkenfeld of Pick Six Racing noted Vyjack’s ongoing mental development.
“He seemed very relaxed today in the work and before the work,” said Wilkenfeld. “I was watching him on the track. He kind of sat outside the other horse, and when Gustavo set him down he was very relaxed. Usually after the works he kind of waits on the other horse, but it looks like he kind of kept going.”
Vyjack’s competition in the Wood is expected to include Verrazano, who is 3-for-3, including an easy win in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. Wilkenfeld, however, is not conceding the Wood Memorial to either undefeated sophomore.
“[Grade 2 Remsen runner-up] Normandy Invasion is also a very nice horse,” said Wilkenfeld. “He needs to win a big race just to get into the Derby, so he’s going to be fully cranked and ready to go. There are some other tough horses, also. The McLaughlin horse who ran against us in the Gotham [Elnaawi, third by 2 ¾ lengths] is also a nice horse.”
Gustavo Rodriguez said Vyjack likely will breeze again in approximately one week.
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Unbeaten Verrazano, currently stabled at Palm Meadows after winning the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, will continue to train in Florida before he sets course for the Wood Memorial on April 6 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Verrazano, who won the Tampa Bay Derby by three lengths under a hand ride, will return the worktab on Sunday and is scheduled to fly to New York on April 3.
“Looking at his schedule, we felt Tampa put him in a position that opened up a lot of options, with the Wood always being our first choice,” said Pletcher, who trains the colt for Let’s Go Stable, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith. “Assuming he trains accordingly, we’ll stick with that plan. We’ll have four weeks’ spacing between the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood and the Kentucky Derby.”
Pletcher added that the Tampa Bay Derby, contested over Tampa Bay Downs’ sandy main track, should put stamina into Verrazano.
“It’s a demanding surface and provides a good foundation,” said Pletcher of the Tampa Bay Downs main track. “The fact he was able to go there and win first time over it gives us encouragement that we can ship him just about anywhere and that he’ll run well.”
Verrazano has made two other starts in his career, winning by 7 ¾ lengths on New Year’s Day and 16 ¼ lengths February 2. Both starts came at Gulfstream Park.
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Shadwell Stable’s Elnaawi, targeting the Wood Memorial off a third in the Gotham, is scheduled to breeze four furlongs on Saturday at Belmont Park, according to Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Prior to the Gotham, Elnaawi broke his maiden by four lengths in January at Aqueduct in his second start. The dark bay colt is a half-brother to 2011 Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap and 2012 Grade 1 Woodward winner To Honor and Serve.
Magnuson added that Godolpin Racing’s Consortium, a contender for the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on the Wood Memorial undercard off a fourth in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap, likely will return to the worktab next week.
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With two days left in Aqueduct’s inner track meet, Irad Ortiz held a 77-73 edge over his brother, Jose, in the jockey standings as of the conclusion of racing on Thursday.
Both riders are battling for their first riding title. Irad Ortiz, 20, has been riding on the NYRA circuit since the spring of 2011. Jose, 19, joined him in New York in March 2012. Irad finished 2012 fifth in the NYRA jockey standings with 146 wins. Jose was 14th with 67 wins.
Jose competed as an apprentice for most of the Aqueduct meeting until he began his career as a journeyman on Wednesday.
Inner track meet highlights for Irad include stakes wins in the Sarcastic (Wildcat’s Smile), Shopping Spree (Miss da Point), Evening Attire (Last Gunfighter), and Jimmy Winkfield (Clawback). Jose won the Moro (Joan’s Choice), Beru (Let Me Entertain U), and Compelling Word (Awesome Vision, via dead heat).
Both Irad and Jose are from Carolina, Puerto Rico and are graduates of Escuela Vocacional Hípica, a school for prospective jockeys.