PALM BEACH STAKES | PURSE: $150,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 3 | 1 1/8 MILES (TURF)
Team Stallion Racing Stable et al's Rydilluc was using his stakes debut in Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach on turf as an audition for the Kentucky Derby trail. By drawing off to a flashy 3 1/2-length score, the Gary Contessa trainee remained perfect from three turf starts, and showed star potential.
That prompted a social-media celebration from his Team Stallion connections: "Derby Dreamin!"
No Kentucky Derby qualifying points were on offer in the Palm Beach, but Rydilluc will go hunting for them on Polytrack next.
"You see what he looks like turning for home with the stride he's got," Contessa marveled. "He's an amazing horse. I think we have to go to the Spiral [Grade 3 at Turfway Park on March 23] or Blue Grass [Grade 1 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.
"At the top of the stretch, and he kicks in like that and draws off, my heart is in my throat," Contessa added. "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."
Also well regarded by regular rider Edgar Prado, who has made the trek to Palm Meadows to work him, Rydilluc was sent off as the 2-1 second choice in this first real test of class. Garnering 8-5 favoritism was the proven Grade 2-placed performer Charming Kitten, winner of the January 20 Kitten's Joy over the course, but the establishment would soon be overturned.
Rydilluc broke sharply, then allowed the 48-1 Dad'z Laugh to serve as his pacemaker. Poised in second through leisurely fractions of :24 4/5 and :49 2/5, Rydilluc struck the front on the far turn and reached six furlongs in 1:13 3/5.
The handsome son of Medaglia d'Oro was moving well within himself swinging for home, and stamped his authority with a potent turn of foot down the stretch. After reeling off the mile in 1:36 3/5, Rydilluc motored his final furlong in :11 2/5 to complete 1 1/8 miles on the firm turf in 1:48.
With that snappy closing kick, Rydilluc widened his margin over runner-up Charming Kitten, who had a neck to spare from Reporting Star in third.
"I think we were just second best today," trainer Todd Pletcher said of Charming Kitten. "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."
Quinzieme Monarque checked in fourth, followed by Dewey Square, Amen Kitten, Dad'z Laugh, Holiday Star, Saturday Special, Summit County and Squall King.
Rydilluc, who furnished mutuels of $6.20, $3.60 and $2.80, now boasts a career mark of 4-3-0-0, $158,490. His lone loss came in his career debut at Belmont Park last October, which also happened to be his only start on dirt. He backed up to a remote fifth, beaten more than 22 lengths by Delhomme, but Contessa doesn't believe that was a true indicator of his dirt ability.
"As good as he runs on turf, he trains on dirt," the trainer said. "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."
Switched to turf at Aqueduct for his second try on November 23, and picking up Prado, Rydilluc romped by 4 1/2 lengths. He subsequently slammed an entry-level allowance field at Gulfstream Park by 5 3/4 lengths on January 5. Contessa mapped out a plan for the Palm Beach, and his promising pupil extended his streak to three.
"The way he ran last time was very impressive," Prado said, "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."
Contessa took to Twitter to express his emotion and thank well-wishers:
"I am choked up," the horseman said. "Thank you all; hopefully we can shake them up a little. You are all so very kind. God bless."
Bred by Hill 'n' Dale Equine Holdings and Gaines-Gentry Thoroughbreds, Rydilluc is a three-time veteran of the sales ring. The bay fetched $55,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, failed to reach his reserve when bringing a $90,000 bid as a Fasig-Tipton Florida two-year-old, and ultimately brought $150,000 at Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Sale last May.
Rydilluc is a half-brother to three other stakes performers -- multiple stakes scorer Gold Wonder and the stakes-placed pair of Dangerous Guy and Whambam. They are all out of the stakes-winning Clever Trick mare Swift and Classy, herself a half-sister to multiple stakes victress and Grade 3-placed Seducer, the dam of multiple Grade 3 queen Seducer's Song.
This is the immediate family of Grade 1-winning sires Roman Ruler and El Corredor.