Updated: March 13, 2013, 6:43 AM ET


Timing, roses and a horse named Vyjack

By Amanda Duckworth | Special to ESPN.com

Vyjack's owner, David Wilkenfeld, will be the first to tell you he is not really a race horse owner. The gelding's breeder, Carrie Brogden, will be the first to tell you the horse (as he is) technically never should have been born. And yet, if the Kentucky Derby was run this weekend, the undefeated multiple graded stakes winner surely would be one of the favorites.

In 2008, Vyjack's dam, Life Happened, was bought for a mere $4,500 at the Keeneland November mixed sale by Machmer Hall, the farm Brogden owns with her husband, Craig, and her mother, Sandy.

After getting Life Happened home, an Australian agent called and offered to buy the mare for double the purchase price. Brogden agreed, but the client never came through with the money. So, Life Happened became a member of Machmer Hall's broodmare band instead.

Come the spring of 2009, it was time to select a date for Life Happened, and she was booked to the now deceased stallion Bernstein. The only problem is when the mare was ready, the stallion wasn't. He had too many dates the day Life Happened needed to be bred, so the Brogdens were forced into changing course. A phone call or two later revealed that Into Mischief -- who at the time was not as well regarded or as expensive to breed to as Bernstein -- had room on his dance card that day.

"Literally, we had two hours to make the decision as to who we were going to breed her to," Carrie Brogden explained. "It's unusual to have to pull the mare from one stallion and go to another. It was such a scramble. It was like calling an audible."

The result? Vyjack.

Brogden describes Vyjack's foal days as uneventful. He was a good-looking, healthy foal who grew into a good-looking, healthy yearling. He was sold for $45,000 to Pike Racing at the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale, but the Brogdens stayed in on 25 percent of the horse.

The following year, Vyjack was sold to Wilkenfeld's Pick Six Racing for $100,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale.

It was the first time Wilkenfeld ever bought a horse at auction.

"It really is something," Wilkenfeld said. "I am not really a horse owner. I have claimed one horse in my life on my own, and I have given my friends a few dollars to claim some horses to have some fun, but that is it. I know there are people out there who try for 20 or 30 years and they won't end up with a horse that is possibly a Kentucky Derby caliber horse."

To read the full story, please click here »

With Twitter, of course you can talk to a horse

By Claire Novak | Special to ESPN.com

AP Photo/Garry JonesThrough social media, trainers such as Doug O'Neill have found other ways to get their messages out.
The whimsical 1950s television series "Mr. Ed" entertained viewers with comic escapades from a talking horse and his human sidekick, Wilbur. According to the theme song, "nobody talks to a horse, of course …" Or can they?

This year racing fans are interacting with top contenders on the Triple Crown trail -- such as 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby and West Coast speedster Goldencents -- through the Twitter accounts managed by their connections. From reported workout times to next-race plans and jockey assignments, information distributed via social media in first-person narrative gives racehorses a human element, fostering an athlete-fan connection the sport had been missing until now.

According to Kelly Wietsma, whose public relations firm Equisponse works with well-known racing outfits like Starlight Racing, in many cases fans are getting information via Twitter "straight from the horse's mouth."

"Someone running that account who is in the barn, around the horse every day, is going to be able to offer a very well-informed connection," Wietsma said.

One such social media manager is Sharla Sanders, who works with 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winning trainer Doug O'Neill (@DougO'Neill1). Her duties include managing the Facebook and Twitter accounts of Derby contender Goldencents (@TheGoldencents) and his lesser-known stablemates Know More and He's Had Enough, as well as the account of retired champion-turned-stable pony Lava Man (@IamLavaMan). Last year she was in charge of the account for Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another; she said "Team O'Neill" has been running Twitter accounts for their contenders for the past 18 months.

"Racehorses having a Twitter account is becoming extremely popular," Sanders said. "We were on the early wave of things with Lava Man and I'll Have Another, but toward the beginning of this year you started to notice, almost anyone who thought they had a Derby hopeful had a Twitter account."

Sanders said knowing the horses in O'Neill's barn gives her the ability to create a certain voice for each Twitter account. She tries to key in to something unique to each runner.

"It gives you a really insider perspective; you have the immediacy of knowing what's going on around the barn," she said. "If you actually know the horses and are around them, you can create a personality for them. That's what the fans connect to, the voice you create for that horse.

"Lava Man, other than just being a seasoned racehorse, carries himself with a certain air," Sanders said. "To this day he looks like he could go run on the track; he knows he's something special. Goldencents right now is just like a little boy trying to figure everything out. He's learning that interacting with people is a good thing, getting to know his owners, not trying to nip at them, learning his manners. The first time he ever took a peppermint as a treat, he had the silliest look on his face. I snapped a picture and tweeted that out, and people reacted to it. The next thing you know, they're sending peppermints to the barn."

To read the full story, please click here »