Trainer Gary Contessa said that Kentucky Derby prospects put his two sons through college.
They did so not by taking the winner’s share in the Run for the Roses, mind you, but by being promising enough early in their careers to command high prices in private sales.
None of those horses actually went on to win the Derby.
This time, Contessa kept one for himself. Now, he just needs to get Rydilluc to Churchill Downs on May 4.
That means finishing at least second today in the Grade I Blue Grass at Keeneland to earn enough points under the new qualifying system.
The son of Medaglia d’Oro, who is the 4-1 co-second choice on the morning line in a very evenly matched Blue Grass, is coming off a win in the Palm Beach at Gulfstream Park in his only stakes start.
“It certainly has crossed my mind now in the latter part of my career what it would have been like if I’d kept National Pride, Citrus Kid, Lovely Isle, Peace Rules, all the good horses I sold over the years, what my career would have been considered,” Contessa said during a national teleconference on Tuesday.
“It would have been different, for sure, but I have no regrets at all. I rooted for those horses, and I was very happy and, you know, I was able to support my family in a good way, too.”
By far the most accomplished of the young horses Contessa sold off the track was Peace Rules, and Rydilluc is a reminder of him insofar as his sire and Peace Rules gave Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel an incredibly powerful 1-2 punch in the early 2000s.
After Peace Rules won the 2002 Blue Grass, he was third in the Kentucky Derby, fourth in the Preakness and first in the Haskell before finishing second in the Travers.
“Everybody knows I sold Peace Rules to Bobby Frankel,” Contessa said. “This is the first time we’ve kept one. [Co-owner] Leonard Green was kind enough to step up and to say, you know, we’re not going to sell this one, we’re going to take him. And I’ll tell you what, I am very confident.”
Rydilluc will be making his debut on a synthetic track in the Blue Grass.
The Palm Beach is run on the Gulfstream turf, but, should he qualify for the Derby, Contessa said he believes Rydilluc will take to the conventional dirt at Churchill Downs.
A trickier hurdle, Contessa said, has been Rydilluc’s bad behavior in the paddock before races.
He’s been schooled extensively at Keeneland this week.
“You are going to know that Rydilluc has entered the paddock when it happens,” Contessa said. “He screams at the top of his lungs, he carries on, he’s difficult. He wants every horse in that race to know he is there. He is a bad hombre in the paddock. I mean, we sweat getting the saddle on him, but we have schooled him every day this week, and he has been a dream.”
Rydilluc will break from the No. 13 post in the full field of 14.
Contessa rattled off a list of reasons why the 13 — his lucky number — was fortuitous.
He was born on the 13th (of October), and the Blue Grass is being run on the 13th of April, in 2013.
The 7-2 favorite is Uncaptured, one of two for trainer Mark Casse and owner John Oxley.
In his only 2013 start, Uncaptured was second to Black Onyx in the Spiral on the synthetic at Turfway Park, the same race Animal Kingdom used as his Derby prep in 2011.
The other Casse-Oxley colt is Dynamic Sky, who was fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby.
The deep field also included Undrafted, owned by Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker; Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice, who is coming right back two weeks after a seventh in the Louisiana Derby; Java’s War, second in the Tampa Bay Derby; and Balance the Books, trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown.
Bob Baffert knows well how to train a horse to win at Oaklawn Park.
The Hall of Fame trainer hopes to once again capture an important race there when he sends out favorite War Academy in the $1 million Arkansas Derby.
A Baffert-trained colt, Bodemeister, won the Kentucky Derby prep race last year, and the Californian guided horses to three straight wins at Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes before D. Wayne Lukas’ Will Take Charge snapped that streak last month.
War Academy, who has only had three starts this year, is one of two Baffert horses in the Arkansas Derby, and both are among the top picks. War Academy was made a 2-1 favorite after drawing the second gate on Wednesday, and Den’s Legacy is 6-1 from the 5 post.
The favorite status for War Academy, who will be ridden by jockey Mike Smith, comes despite his being lightly raced. The colt has run exclusively in California, with wins in two of his three races — including his last time out at Santa Anita, an allowance after finishing fourth in the San Vicente.
“War Academy certainly is getting a lot of buzz,” assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes told the AP. “He’s a Giant’s Causeway colt, he’s a good looking colt, and he’s hopefully going in the right direction now. We couldn’t be happier with him, but he’s untested. We’ll find out on Saturday.”
The winner of the 11⁄8-mile race will earn 100 points in the race for a spot in the Kentucky Derby, while the place and show horses will earn 40 and 20, respectively.
Oxbow, who was edged by Will Take Charge at last month’s Rebel, drew the far outside No. 10 post and was made the 5-2 second choice.
The Lukas-trained Oxbow, owned by Calumet Farm and a son of Awesome Again, broke to the lead at the turn for home at the Rebel before being edged by his stablemate Will Take Charge. Lukas said after the Rebel that he wouldn’t race the two against each other again before the Kentucky Derby.
Overanalyze is the third choice at 4-1 for Pletcher and owner Mike Repole, and will be ridden for the first time by jockey Rafael Bejarano.
Frac Daddy (15-1) is making a last-gasp attempt at making the Derby field for trainer Kenny McPeek, two weeks after a seventh in the Florida Derby. That was first start after badly grabbing a quarter and finishing sixth in the Holy Bull.
DERBY JOCKEY CAROUSEL
Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary arrived at Churchill Downs on Friday morning.
Pletcher and WinStar Farm will decide on a jockey for him after the weekend preps are done.
The mount is open because Javier Castellano decided to stick with Normandy Invasion, the runner-up to Verrazano in the Wood last weekend who is trained by Brown.
John Velazquez is injured, but on schedule to get back in the saddle Derby week, and picked Verrazano over Orb. It didn’t take long for trainer Shug McGaughey to line up Joel Rosario to ride Orb.
That opened up Vyjack, and Garrett Gomez was named on Thursday to ride the Wood third-place finisher.
Verrazano and Normandy Invasion are scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs on Sunday.
Pletcher will be at Keeneland today to saddle Charming Kitten and Palace Malice in the Blue Grass and will remain in Kentucky through the Derby.
WISE DAN HITS MARK
Showing again he’s getting better with age, 6-year-old Wise Dan took control at the top of the stretch Friday to win the Grade I Maker’s 46 Mile Friday at Keeneland.
With Jose Lezcano aboard, the 2012 Horse of the Year and the race favorite, ran a mile on the turf in 1:36.37, holding off Data Link for the 10th win in his last 12 starts.
Oldest of the five-horse field, Wise Dan didn’t take long to live up to his name in his first start since November’s Breeders’ Cup Mile victory.
Starting outside, he laid back initially but fought to run four wide on the backstretch before taking control at the final turn. Lezcano’s push kept Wise Dan ahead of a determined Data Link, who was a length back in second.
“I was a little concerned turning for home that maybe he was going to get a little tired when Data Link made a big run at him, but his class prevailed,” trainer Charlie LoPresti told The Associated Press. “He’s training well and we were pretty confident going into this race. We’re really happy to get him back and have the champ win.”
Wise Dan created his own tough act to follow after winning five of six starts to seal his selection as 2012’s top thoroughbred. That stellar
record included a Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile win under Lezcano last November, one of four career victories for Wise Dan at Keeneland.
Owner Morton Fink wasn’t sure what to expect from Wise Dan after the long layoff, and LoPresti would have preferred that he run next weekend’s 11⁄8-mile Grade III Ben Ali here on the main track.
LoPresti hinted that the versatile Wise Dan’s next start might be the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, where he finished second last year to Ron The Greek.
Data Link won the Maker’s 46 Mile last year, then was fifth in the Shadwell Mile in his return to Keeneland.
He kept pace with Wise Dan after starting from the No. 2 post, but once the field hit the stretch Wise Dan showed his experience and grit, and that made the difference.
While Fink wouldn’t predict what kind of season Wise Dan is capable of, Friday showed that he’s aging well.
“As good as he was last year, five months go by and sometimes you need a race,” he said. “You’re never assured in this business, but I’m getting to the point where you almost think nobody can beat him.”
The Blue Grass card includes four other graded stakes, the Grade I Madison for fillies and mares at seven furlongs; the Grade I Jenny Wiley for fillies and mares at a mile and sixteenth on the turf; the Grade III Commonwealth at seven furlongs; and the Grade III Shakertown turf sprint.
Centre Court is the 5-2 favorite in the Jenny Wiley, followed by 7-2 Samitar, trained by Brown, off a second to Centre Court in the Honey Fox.
Samitar won the Grade I Garden City at Belmont Park last year before finishing third behind Centre Court in the Lake George at Saratoga Race Course.
On the Arkansas Derby card, Fort Larned will try to rebound from his misadventure in the Gulfstream Park Handicap as the 7-5 favorite in the Oaklawn Handicap.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic and Whitney stumbled at the start of the Gulfstream race and ran off after unseating jockey Brian Hernandez.
Among those he’ll face in the Oaklawn Handicap is Optimizer, who returns to the dirt for the first time in 11 starts since finishing 10th in the Belmont Stakes last year. He had been exclusively a turf horse since then, winning three Grade III races, two of which were this year at Fair Grounds.
TC COUNTDOWN AT HALL
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame will host its annual Countdown to the Triple Crown program 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 27 at in the museum’s Hall of Fame Gallery.
Veteran handicappers Tom Amello, Jeff Carle, and Jeanne Wood will be on hand to offer analysis and predictions for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby and answer questions from the audience about the Triple Crown series. The program is free and open to the public.
AROUND THE TRACKS
The Oklahoma training track opens for workouts today, from
6-10:30 a.m. . . .
On Fire Baby stuck to the rail under Joe Johnson and held off six rivals, including even-money favorite Grace Hall, to win the Grade I Apple Blossom on Friday.
Grace Hall, winner of the Spinaway at Saratoga in 2011, challenged On Fire Baby on the turn, but faded to last. . . .
Unbeaten sprinter Black Caviar was scheduled to shoot for her 25th victory in the $1million TJ Smith Stakes at Royal Randwick in Sydney, Australia, at 3 a.m. today. . . .
Mizdirection, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint for co-owner Jim Rome last year, will shoot for her fourth straight win as the 3-5 favorite in the Grade III Las Cienegas at Santa Anita. . . .
Undefeated New York-bred Cluster of Stars is the even-money favorite in the Grade II Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct.
Unraced at 2, the 4-year-old daughter of Greeley’s Galaxy is
3-for-3 this year, all at Aqueduct, after just a maiden win last year.
HERE AND THERE
Belmont and Saratoga will host 13 Breeders’ Cup Challenge races this year, with the winners earning automatic berths and travel expenses to the Breeders’ Cup.
The designated Saratoga races are the Whitney (Classic), Ballerina (Filly and Mare Sprint) and Personal Ensign (Ladies Classic).
Six of the 10 Belmont “Win-And-You’re-In” races will occur on Jockey Club Gold Cup Day, Sept. 28.
The others are the Champagne and Frizette on Oct. 5 and the Miss Grillo and Pilgrim on Oct. 6. . . .
Promising apprentice rider Trevor McCarthy will miss 8-10 weeks with a broken left tibia, suffered in a spill at Laurel Park on Thursday.