A couple versions of Rydilluc have shown up on race day during the colt's four-race career, and both of them give trainer Gary Contessa palpitations.
Upon entering the paddock and getting around his competition for the first time, Rydilluc likes to channel the persona of a pro wrestler: hollering, screaming, showcasing his manliness and generally insisting that every bit of attention be directed his way.
Once Rydilluc gets the cue to head to the track, however, the hysterical bay colt morphs into a stony professional who makes himself nearly impossible to ignore because he keeps reaching the winner's circle.
"He's a pain in the butt, but he's been a success," Contessa said, laughing. "I've seen horses carry on like that, but I've never seen a horse carry on like he does in the paddock and go out and run that good. Once he sets foot on the track, he's all business."
The Rydilluc who wins often, wins effortlessly and trains like a beast has made Contessa and his crew much more willing to tolerate the testosterone-fueled antics. Contessa is confident that the repeated schooling he has done with the colt will take the edge off his usual pre-race display this weekend, but the New York-based trainer hopes the real show-stopping performance will come against 13 others in Saturday's Grade I, $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
On the basis of three consecutive wins on turf, including his 31/2-length triumph in the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 3, Rydilluc was made the 4-1 co-second choice on the morning line Wednesday for the Blue Grass after drawing post No. 13 — Contessa's lucky number. Multiple graded stakes winner Uncaptured, second in the Grade III Spiral Stakes at Turfway in March, was made the lukewarm 7-2 morning-line favorite after drawing post No. 7 in the full field of 14.
With the 11⁄8-mile Blue Grass Stakes worth 100 points to the winner and 40 points to the runner-up on the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" system that determines the 20-horse field for May 4, Contessa is ready to take both his and his charge's ebullient personalities to Louisville as long as he finishes in the top two Saturday.
If Rydilluc's current form and recent history holds, that shouldn't be too much to ask.
The turf-to-Polytrack-to-Kentucky Derby route has become increasingly popular, with 2011 Derby hero Animal Kingdom the ultimate symbol for its success after prepping in the Spiral, and last year's Blue Grass winner Dullahan ultimately running third on the first Saturday in May.
Since his sublime win in the 11⁄8-mile Palm Beach Stakes, Rydilluc has pleased Contessa with the way he has trained and handled himself in the mornings. Secure in the knowledge that they already have a talented turf prospect, Contessa and the ownership group headed by managing partner Leonard Green want to know whether the bay colt's monster stride carries over to the dirt.
"I'm a spiritual guy and I believe whatever is to be has already been written," Contessa said. "If he's not 1-2, we pack up and he's back to being a turf horse. But ... I have never had a horse train as well as this horse is training at this moment.
"I've done stride analysis on him, and he's got one of the most phenomenal strides you've ever seen. When you watch him run and you watch the rest of the field, he just has an unbelievable way of going. That's his attribute; that's his positive. (Jockey) Edgar (Prado) said we have not seen this horse's best race yet, yet he's won by daylight."
Before winning his last three outings by a combined 133/4 lengths, Rydilluc made his career debut on dirt at Belmont Park, running fifth behind Delhomme in a 1-mile test on Oct. 13.
It wasn't the surface that beat Rydilluc that day so much as it was Rydilluc beating himself, Contessa said. The colt debuted his worked-up pre-race self, complete with screaming and throwing his jockey.
"No doubt he ran his race way before he got on the track that day," Contessa said.
Convinced that Rydilluc was better than he showed, Contessa switched the colt to the grass and watched as his early speed has pounded rivals into the turf. And rather than trying to break Rydilluc of his propensity to show the world how ready he is for stud duty, Contessa and his staff diligently in schooled him and, more importantly, accepted his routine as part of his edge.
"The day of the Palm Beach, I would have guessed he was going to lose because he carried on so bad in the paddock ... I needed a valium after that," Contessa said. "But if that's his thing, we'll work with him. For those people who are going to be (at the Blue Grass), you are going to know that Rydilluc has entered the paddock when it happens. He wants every horse in that race to know he is there and he is bad."
When: 5:40 p.m. Saturday | TV: NBC | Purse: $750,000 | Distance: 1 1/8 miles | Weight: 123 lbs.
|2||My Name is Michael||Mott||Bridgmohan||15-1|
|6||Channel Isle||Lukas||Rocco Jr.||30-1|
|11||Balance the Books||Brown||Castellano||15-1|
|12||West Hills Giant||Terranova II||Espinoza||20-1|
|14||Fear the Kitten||Maker||Napravnik||30-1|
Alicia Wincze Hughes (859) 231-1676. Blog: Horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.