08/07/2013 3:41PM

Saratoga: Contessa has eyes on the skies for Rydilluc

Barbara D. Livingston
Rydilluc has thrived on firm surfaces but not so much in races where there was give in the ground.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Gary Contessa was in a good mood Wednesday morning until someone brought up the weather forecast for Friday.

“I don’t read the newspaper and I don’t watch weather reports,” Contessa said as he was driving to Belmont Park to check on his string down there.

Undoubtedly, Contessa will be watching the weather intently Friday as he gets ready to run Rydilluc in the Grade 2, $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes in Saratoga.

Contessa felt that Rydilluc was compromised by soft ground in the Virginia Derby, where he finished in a dead heat for eighth, and there is a 70 percent chance of rain Friday which followed a 50 percent chance of rain on Thursday. Last year, it rained enough on this day to have the Hall of Fame transferred from the turf to the dirt.

On firm ground, Contessa would be ultra-confident in Rydilluc, who is 4 for 4 on firm turf including victories in the Grade 3 Palm Beach at Gulfstream and the inaugural Penn Mile at Penn National. His most recent workout, a half-mile in 47.88 seconds over a firm Oklahoma turf course on Friday, “gave me goose bumps,” Contessa said.

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“He is his old self, he’s tearing it up,” Contessa said. “Very pleased with how he’s going into this race. I do think I’m bringing over the best horse, it’s just that soft turf is not quite to his liking.”

Charming Kitten will face Rydilluc for the fifth consecutive race. The two have split four decisions thus far. In the Virginia Derby, Charming Kitten finished second, beaten a head by War Dancer, when things got tight along the rail.

“Charming Kitten was moving through on the inside and got shut off a little bit,” trainer Todd Pletcher said.

Both of Charming Kitten’s wins have come at 1 1/16 mile – the distance of the Hall of Fame – including a maiden win over good ground in July 2012.

Charming Kitten, who does his best running from off the pace, appears to have a rabbit in Get in Line. Both horses are owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Get in Line, claimed for $50,000 last out, is trained by Mike Maker.

Pletcher also will be represented by Notacatbutallama, a New York-bred son of Harlan’s Holiday who comes off two quality stakes wins at Belmont and who won a maiden race here by 6 1/2 lengths last summer.

“His last two races he’s stepped it up a notch and learned how to finish a race,” Pletcher said. “Johnny [Velazquez] knows him really well and how he needs to be ridden.”

Balance the Books, a multiple graded stakes winner at 2 including a victory over Charming Kitten here last summer in the With Anticipation Stakes, is seeking his first win at 3. He finished third to Notacatbutallama in the Solar Splendor last month.

“I thought my horse was closing well,” trainer Chad Brown said. “He’s just starting to round into form.”

Brown said he wasn’t sure how Balance the Books would handle a soft turf course.

North Slope, fifth in the Solar Splendor after winning a productive allowance race May 31, gets blinkers for the first time from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

Battier, another Pletcher entrant, would only run if the race is moved to the main track.