Vyjack and trainer Rudy Rodriguez mis-timed their arrival to the Fair Hill Training Center dirt track Friday morning, but got an easy half-mile breeze just right once the tractors cleared.
"I think I'm going to take a little walk with him," Rodriguez said while trying (and failing) to convince the Kentucky Derby hopeful to wait patiently as two John Deere tractors tugged harrows over the final 7 furlongs. "I am early." Don't blame Rodriguez; he's new and the 8:30-9 a.m. break can be a little bit flexible.
Vyjack, with Rodriguez aboard, stood in the grass, tried to get antsy, knocked the hat off his groom and took a 10-minute stroll around the horse path. Once the track cleared, the son of Into Mischief stepped on and went to work. He jogged around to the backside - with a little jink at the tractor gap - stood in briefly to watch some others join him on the 1-mile oval, galloped back through the stretch and around the turn. Rodriguez let his horse accelerate gradually and he finished a half-mile in 51.6 seconds. The time was the slowest of 10 at the distance Friday, but Rodriguez will take it. Vyjack hadn't breezed since finishing third in the Wood Memorial two weeks ago and was given some to recover from respiratory issues after relocating from Aqueduct. He's been training steadily at Fair Hill, with an emphasis on his health.
"I like what he did, nice, comfortable," Rodriguez said while still aboard the bay gelding back at the barn. "We went too early to the track and he was full of himself. He's been a lot more aggressive the last few days and he was looking for some work."
After several turns and the shedrow and long pulls at his water bucket, Vyjack went for a roll in the sand, a good shake and a deep breath in a round pen - something he had no access to at Aqueduct. The time at Fair Hill has been good for his horse, Rodriguez said.
"Hopefully we can win the Derby and we will be back," he said. Vyjack, owned by David Wilkenfeld's Pick Six Stable, will get his chance thanks to a 4-for-5 record and three stakes wins. He chased the unbeaten Verrazano home in the Wood and was caught for second late by Normandy Invasion, losing by a length total.
Rodriguez said the Jerome and Gotham winner would ship to Churchill Downs as early as Saturday.
For more on Vyjack, see story from earlier in the week.