With a close finish in the Penn Mile standing as the most recent memory of the last time the trio of Rydilluc, Charming Kitten and Jack Milton met on a race track, a rematch Saturday in the $500,000 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs could represent an intriguing reunion.
Rydilluc, a Kentucky-bred colt who won the first Penn Mile turf race on June 1 at Penn National Race Course, will head into the 16th running of the Virginia Derby as a 9-to-5 morning line favorite in the race for 3-year-olds to be contested over one-mile-and-one-quarter on turf.
He'll break from the fourth post and lead a field of 10 horses in the Grade II highlight of the thoroughbred meet season at Colonial Downs. The Virginia Derby is set for an 8:12 p.m. post time on the 12-race card that begins at 5.
Trained by New York native Gary Contessa, Rydilluc has been on an impressive run since last November. He's won all four of his starts on turf, including a victory in March in the Grade III Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park with jockey Edgar Prado atop.
Prado is again slated to ride Rydilluc in the Virginia Derby. Rydilluc was also fourth in April on an artificial surface in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
While Rydilluc will be looking to keep his perfect record on turf intact, Charming Kitten will be trying to get the upper hand in the rivalry. Charming Kitten finished second in the Penn Mile, three-quarters of a length behind Rydilluc.
In the Palm Beach Stakes, Charming Kitten was again second to Rydilluc and was separated by 3 1/2 lengths. Charming Kitten, who is also a Kentucky-bred colt, got the upper hand on Rydilluc in the Blue Grass Stakes by finishing third.
Charming Kitten, who finished ninth in May in the Kentucky Derby, will start from the No. 3 post. He's finished in the money in all six of his career turf starts, including two wins.
He's trained by Todd Pletcher, who has fielded three winners in Triple Crown races since 2007 and won earned the Eclipse Award as the sport's top trainer every year from '04 through '07.
Jack Milton won't have to look far to find his fellow Penn Mile combatants. He'll start right next to them in the Virginia Derby, coming out of the No. 5 post. He followed a win in April in the Grade III Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland with a third place finish in the Penn Mile, where he was three-quarters of a length behind Charming Kitten.
All four of Jack Milton's starts have been on turf, and he's finished in the money each time out. The Transylvania Stakes marked his only start in a graded stakes. He's also trained by Pletcher.
War Dancer, Draw Two and Redwood Kitten have all demonstrated the ability to effectively find their way around turf with some success.
War Dancer, a Ken McPeek-trained Kentucky colt, will take off from the No. 6 post looking for a sixth finish in the money in his sixth turf start. He was second in June in the Centaur Stakes at Indiana Downs, and third in May in the Grade II American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Though he'll have to start from the 10th spot in the gate, Draw Two enters the weekend riding a hot streak. He won his last two starts, but there was a significant gap in the races — an October win at Belmont Park and a May victory at the same track. This weekend will mark his first start in a graded stakes, but he's finished in the money in all four of his career starts — all of which have been on turf.
Redwood Kitten brings more experience on turf than any other horse in the field, with six top-three finishes in eight turf starts. He's coming off a win in May in the 1-mile James W. Murphy Stakes at Pimlico. He'll start from the second post in the Virginia Derby.
Keeping with the feline theme, Fear the Kitten is surpassed by only Charming Kitten in terms of experience in stakes races. Fear the Kitten has been in seven stakes races, finishing as high as second in February in the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, while Charming Kitten has eight stakes starts.
The Virginia Derby will mark Fear the Kitten's first start on turf, and he'll open from the No. 9 post. He's trained by Michael Maker.
Bethel, Readyshakego and Gefest will also be part of the field from the first, seventh and eighth posts, respectively. None of the trio has finished better than third in a stakes race, and Readyshakego will be making his first start in a stakes event.
Purse: $500,000 (Grade II)