By Dick Downey
Photo by Courtney Heeney
Trainer Gary Contessa is now thinking about the Kentucky Derby road after his Rydilluc won the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes on turf at Gulfstream Park.
The 3-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro prevailed over Charming Kitten by 3 1/2 lengths, timed in 1:48.18 for 1 1/8 mile while being ridden out by Edgar Prado.
Away from the starting gate alertly, Rydilluc assumed a stalking position just off the pacesetting Dad’z Laugh during a first half-mile in a pedestrian :49.59. The 2-1 second betting choice edged to the front on the far turn without any encouragement from Prado before sprinting away from his rivals in the stretch. Charming Kitten, the 8-5 favorite ridden by John Velazquez, closed well to finish second, a neck ahead of Reporting Star, who had a stalking trip under Eduardo Nunez.
Quinzieme Monarque was fourth. Dewey Square, a Dale Romans-trained colt who was making his turf debut, finished fifth after being shuffled back in the backstretch. Following them were Amen Kitten, Dad'z Laugh, Holiday Star, Saturday Special, Summit County and Squall King.
Rydilluc, who had captured an entry-level allowance by nearly six lengths at Gulfstream on Jan. 5, got his third straight victory by open lengths. He ran the final three-eighths mile in :34.46.
Rydilluc's dirt ability remains in question. He debuted on Oct. 13 with a distant fifth-place finish in which he was never a factor. His next stop will probably be on a synthetic surface in either the Grade III Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Grade Spiral Stakes or Grade I Toyota Bluegrass Stakes -- and then maybe a date with dirt in the Kentucky Derby. He'd have to get all his qualifying points in his next start. The Palm Beach isn't a Derby qualifying race.
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Hill 'n' Dale Equine Holdings, Inc. & Gaines-Gentry Thoroughbreds, LLC. Rydilluc is owned by Dellatore-Bobo Green, Shay Lerner, Baker, Baker and others. He was bought for $150,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Timonium sale last May.
Gary Contessa: “You see what he looks like turning for home with the stride he’s got. He’s an amazing horse. I think we have to go to the Spiral (at Turfway Park on March 23) or Blue Grass (at Keeneland on April 13) and take a shot. He’s nominated for the Spiral and he’s nominated for the Blue Grass and I’ve seen a lot of horses that did this – turf to Poly – and showed up in the Derby. So we’re not ruling it out.
“As good as he runs on turf he runs on dirt. I just got to toss that first race (on dirt). I don’t know if you saw him in the paddock, but he’s a handful. Maybe he just blew his race that day and just wasn’t mentally prepared.
“At the top of the stretch and he kicks in like that and draws off, my heart is in my throat. That’s what keeps us getting up in the morning – a horse like this. It’s going to be fun getting to the bottom of it and find out exactly what he is.”
Edgar Prado: "The way he ran last time was very impressive and I was very happy how he ran and came out of the race. He has been working great. Charming Kitten is a nice horse, but today was Rydilluc's day, and he passed the test. He came back fresh and happy, he's such a nice horse."
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Charming Kitten: "I think we were just second best today. The winner was very good and we got the trip we anticipated. I thought our horse ran very well, we just couldn't get to him. I was concerned with Rydilluc because he's been impressive and we were thinking he was the horse to beat. We couldn't quite run him down but I thought he ran well."