Gary Contessa’s training career goes back to 1985. He’s won more than 2,000 races. He’s topped the 1,000-start mark in three seasons. But Saturday night he does something he’s never done. Saddle a horse at Penn National.
“I’ve spent all these years training horses and I’ve never started a horse at Penn National,” he said. “Can you believe it? It seems like I’ve run horses everywhere, but never there.”
He picked the right night.
Contessa ships Rydilluc to the Grantville, Pa. track for the $500,000 Penn Mile, the headliner on a stakes-rich card worth $1.2 million in purses. First post for the 10-race card is 6 p.m. with the Mile carded as the fourth race at 7:26. Other races on the night include the $250,000 Mountainview at 9 furlongs on the dirt, the $150,000 Governor’s Cup at 5 furlongs on the turf, two $60,000 stakes for Pennsylvania-bred or sired horses and two $50,000 divisions of the Penn Dash for dirt sprinters. The night was designed to be a marketing tool and a racing opportunity. It hits on both.
“When we were drawing up this day last winter we thought there was a weakness in the 3-year-old turf calendar at that time,” said Dan Silver, Penn’s director of racing operations. “It sort of came out perfectly and our racing department did a really good job putting it all together.”
The Penn Mile is stacked as the eight starters exit graded stakes tries and even the Kentucky Derby. The Mountainview lured graded stakes players Rattlesnake Bridge, Macho Macho, Jiminator, Pants On Fire and Easter Gift. The Governor’s Cup is a heavyweight turf sprint with Ben’s Cat, Bridgetown and Chamberlain Bridge on board.
Rydilluc the 5-2 second choice in a stacked field for the Mile, a new race created to give Penn a signature event while taking advantage of a lull in the 3-year-old schedule between the Preakness and Belmont and in line with turf stakes at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.
Owned by Leonard Green and partners, Rydilluc exits a brief freshening after finishing fourth in the Blue Grass at Keeneland in April. Fifth in his debut on the dirt last October, the son of Medaglia d’Oro won three consecutive turf starts including the Grade 3 Palm Beach in March. Like the trainer of any 3-year-old in spring, Contessa thought Kentucky Derby at least briefly and tried the Blue Grass. His horse finished fourth, beaten less than two lengths and may have tried the Derby but for a pulse in a foot discovered at Keeneland. Now, Contessa is happy he missed the opportunity.
“Everything in my life happens for a reason because had I stuck around in Lexington it became apparent he would have gotten in (the Derby),” he said. “I had enough points, but he had a hot foot. The way the race set up, it would not have worked out well. He would have been chasing that 45 (second) half, and would have gotten creamed.”
Instead, Rydilluc went back to New York and regrouped and now gets a chance to jump into the upper level of sophomore turf horses.
“The foot was cold a week after we got him back to New York,” Contessa said. “We never missed anything with him. I’m not concerned about a thing with him. I’m concerned that one of those horses might be a little better than him, but nothing else. I think he’s coming into this race ready to run his A race. Is A good enough? We’ll know Saturday night.”
Edgar Prado takes the return riding call on the $150,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old sale graduate.
Chad Brown trainee Noble Tune rates the 2-1 favorite for the Mile. Owned by Martin Schwartz and Dell Ridge Farm, the son of Unbridled’s Song has been first or second in all five career starts with wins coming in the Pilgrim Stakes last fall and the Grade 2 American Turf last out at Churchill. His only defeat came when second to George Vancouver in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year. Javier Castellano takes the ride.
Trainer Todd Pletcher ships in with two, 3-1 shot Jack Milton and 4-1 Charming Kitten. Are You Kidding Me (12-1) finished a nose behind Noble Tune at Tampa Bay Downs in March for trainer Roger Attfield and was third to Infinite Magic last out at Keeneland. Others in the field are the well-traveled Triple Cross (second in the Tom Ridge Stakes at Presque Isle last out) and Pennsylvania-breds Pitch N Roll and Yougotthatgoinforu.
Check out Penn National entries.
Stretch run of Rydilluc in Blue Grass Stakes.
More from TIHR on Penn National night