07/11/2013 2:19PM

Colonial Downs: Rydilluc tries to stay perfect on grass in Virginia Derby

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On June 1 at Penn National, the unofficial title of the country’s top 3-year-old turf miler was decided when Rydilluc defeated Charming Kitten and Jack Milton in the $500,000 Penn Mile, the richest race for sophomore turf horses run to that point in 2013.

A month and a half later, Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Virginia Derby is set to determine the 3-year-old pecking order going the longer turf distance of 1 1/4 miles.

Rydilluc, Charming Kitten, and Jack Milton – the one-two-three finishers from the Penn Mile – are back, along with seven other 3-year-olds in the signature race of the Colonial Downs meet, which, along with four other stakes, highlights the track’s banner closing-night card.

Although Rydilluc has yet to race 1 1/4 miles, that is true of all but Charming Kitten and longshot Readyshakego in the field.

A son of Medaglia d’Oro who is perfect in four starts on turf, Rydilluc won at 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 3 Palm Beach on March 3 at Gulfstream, defeating Charming Kitten by 3 1/2 lengths. Between that race and the Penn Mile was a loss, although hardly a poor effort. Racing in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack surface, he spurted away from the field on the second turn but couldn’t sustain his run to the wire and faded to fourth, beaten 1 3/4 lengths.

“The key is to sit on him, to wait as long as possible,” trainer Gary Contessa said. “His move was premature in the Blue Grass, and it hurt us.”

Contessa is reserving judgment on whether Rydilluc will prove to be a 1 1/4-mile horse, calling it a “specialty distance.”

“I’ve had horses close from out of it and be nowhere at a mile and a quarter, and I’ve had horses seem to quit that go on and last,” he said. “You find out by trial by fire.”

Regular jockey Edgar Prado, one of numerous out-of-town jockeys coming in for the Virginia Derby and the undercard stakes, has the mount.

Charming Kitten looks to be the principal threat to Rydilluc, although he has lost to Rydilluc twice in as many head-to-head matchups on grass. He does, however, have 1 1/4-mile experience, having run ninth in the Kentucky Derby, and he finished in front of Rydilluc when rallying for third in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass.

Charming Kitten, one of three sons of Kitten’s Joy in the Virginia Derby, is owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who also have the front-running Redwood Kitten in the race. The two horses are uncoupled in the wagering.

Joel Rosario, the winningest stakes jockey in the country this year with 32 such victories through Wednesday, rides Charming Kitten.

Jack Milton, like Charming Kitten, is trained by Todd Pletcher. He was a nose short of his stablemate when edged in a photo for second in the Penn Mile. On the board in all four of his races, he will be ridden by his regular jockey, John Velazquez.

Post time for the Virginia Derby, carded as the seventh race, is 8:12 p.m. Eastern, with the card kicking off at 5 p.m.

The Virginia Derby is the last of five consecutive turf stakes on the card, which also includes the Grade 3, $150,000 Virginia Oaks and a trio of $75,000 stakes — the Kitten’s Joy, Tippett, and Chenery. Saturday’s races from Colonial will air live on HRTV and will be streamed at DRF.com.