|ESPN.com: HorseRacing||[Print without images]|
Rydilluc was undefeated in four career starts on turf heading into the Virginia Derby, including wins in the Palm Beach at Gulfstream Park and the inaugural Penn Mile at Penn National. The Medaglia d'Oro colt was made the 2-1 favorite for the 1 ¼-mile Colonial Downs centerpiece, but faded to eighth in the final quarter-mile.
"I still think Rydilluc is a sensational horse, and he's worked fantastic," Contessa said. "I believe we ran poorly because the turf was soft [at Colonial Downs], and my horse has trained very well since. His work the other day was poetry in motion. He looked phenomenal, and I had the first quarter in 25 [seconds] flat and the last quarter in :22 ¼. [Jockey Edgar] Prado barely moved on him. The horse is certainly coming into the race ready, and we've just got to come out and do it."
The Hall of Fame will be Rydilluc's fifth meeting with Charming Kitten, a homebred son of Kitten's Joy who races for Ken and Sarah Ramsey. The Todd Pletcher trainee was runner-up to Rydilluc in the Palm Beach and Penn Mile, but outfinished that rival in both the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Virginia Derby.
"He's run really well, and we were just a little unfortunate the other day [in the Virginia Derby] when he just missed," Pletcher said. "He consistently shows up and runs hard every time. It's just been unfortunate. I think he's coming up to this in really good order."
Pletcher will also saddle Notacatbutallama, who comes in off back-to-back stakes wins in the Hill Prince and the Solar Splendor at Belmont. The most experienced member of the field with 11 starts, the Harlan's Holiday colt broke his maiden over the Saratoga turf last summer.
"He showed a lot of talent right from the beginning," Pletcher said. "He just seems to keep getting better and better. The thing that seems a little different with him this year as opposed to last is that he's learned to polish off a race. He's had a tendency to make the lead at times and idle a little bit, but now he's beginning to finish up well."
Balance the Books, winless in four starts since taking both the With Anticipation at Saratoga and the Bourbon at Keeneland last term, was a rallying third behind a slow pace in the July 13 Solar Splendor last time. Also exiting that race is the Darley homebred North Slope, who was fifth after getting squeezed at the start. A sharp winner of a key Belmont allowance two back, the Elusive Quality colt will don blinkers for the first time in the Hall of Fame.
The supporting feature on Friday's card is the $100,000 Alada, a restricted nine-furlong test for fillies and mares. Probable favorites include Flashy American, And Why Not, and Sea Island, all of whom have placed in graded stakes this season.