Stepping Out

A rare match-up at the Wood Memorial

Derby favorites face off in Queens’ biggest race


It’s extremely rare to see the country’s top two three-year-olds face off before the Kentucky Derby, but that will be the case at Aqueduct Racetrack, on Saturday, April 6, when undefeated Verrazano and undefeated Vyjack compete in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial.
The Wood is New York’s premier prep race for the Kentucky Derby with a long history as a springboard to Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes success. Five of the eleven Triple Crown winners have competed in the race including most recently Secretariat and Seattle Slew.
One of the horses looking to add his name to that distinguished list is New York-based Vyjack who has spent the winter stabled at Aqueduct, going 4-for-4 at the Queens track. Following a pair of wins as a two-year-old, Vyjack started off his sophomore season with a narrow victory in the Grade 2 Jerome after contesting the pace. In his most recent start in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on March 2, Vyjack changed his running style when he rallied from far back and blew past his opponents to win by 2 ¼ widening lengths.
Vyjack, whose name is a result of combining the names of his owner’s parents Vivenne and Jack, is the first horse owned by David Wilkenfeld. Wilkenfeld is a successful entrepreneur and horseplayer who knows just how lucky he is to own such a promising runner.
“It’s amazing,” said Wilkenfeld moments after Vyjack won the Gotham. “Words can’t describe it. You buy a horse, you hope for this, but it’s not something you really think about.”
Vyjack is expected to face his toughest challenge to date in the form of another undefeated 3-year-old – Verrazano. 
Despite his quintessential New York name, Verrazano is making his first Big Apple appearance following three dominant wins in Florida. Verrazano trounced the competition by an astonishing 24 lengths in his first two races before he easily handled stakes competition with a three-length win in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9. 

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