The 20 horses who will line up in the starting gate to Run for the Roses this year are horses like any of the other 28,000 Thoroughbreds born in 2010. Some are homebreds: born and raised by the same owners in whose silks they run. Others are purchased through the auction ring, sometimes multiple times: I'll Have Another sold for $11k at the 2010 Keeneland Yearling sale and was "pinhooked" as a two-year-old in Ocala for $35k. That's a nifty profit in just seven months.
Few horses are purchased for vast sums at auction and go on to true greatness: $4 million yearling and eventual Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus is one of the rare exceptions. Several top horses actually didn't sell or had to be withdrawn: Sunday Silence was a $32k buy-back (or "RNA"); Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who raced as a homebred for Team Valor, was a $100k RNA at the 2009 Keeneland sale.
Bodemeister was withdrawn from the 2011 Fasig Tipton Florida sale because the connections "knew he had the potential of being a star, but he simply wasn't going to bring the kind of money you wouldn't want to turn down," owner Ahmed Zayat told us.
This year, it's Rydilluc who has the interesting sales history: the beautiful bay son of Medaglia d'Oro was chased over a six month span by one very determined man who saw his potential.
Bred in Kentucky by Hill 'n' Dale Equine Holdings & Gaines-Gentry Thoroughbreds, Rydilluc was purchased out of the 2011 Keeneland Yearling sale for $55k by Straightaway Farms.
After learning the ropes in Ocala, the colt showed up in the Secure Investments consignment at the Palm Meadows Florida sale in March 2012. Racingwithbruno spent that winter in Florida and watched the future Rydilluc's pre-sale breeze in 10.3, and out 23 for a quarter. When it came to preview day, though, the colt didn't quite fire and worked in 11.1, 22.3, and galloped out in 35.4. Not a bad work by any means, but enough for him to not meet his $90k reserve.
The colt would show up at the Fasig Tipton Timonium sale several months later on Preakness weekend. He previewed much better over the tighter turns of the old racetrack in 10.3, 22, and galloping out in 36.4. Still not the prettiest of movers, the colt covered ground like a horse who would appreciate added real estate. Horses like him fool buyers because they take the whole quarter mile preview to get fully into stride.
One man who wasn't fooled: Gary Contessa. In his words, "I loved him and bid on him down in Florida," but decided to let him go when the price got too steep. The veteran trainer got a shot at redemption when he saw the Timonium catalog. "I was absolutely certain that I was the only one on him at $150k'' said Contessa. "I had to have him. I emailed everyone and told them this was their Derby horse," said a grinning Gary. It's evident that telling Rydilluc's story has become his trainer's new favorite pasttime.
Contessa is an excellent conditioner known for training the likes of Runway Rosie, Sweet Vendetta, and Papi Chullo. He also campaigned Do It With Style, who famously won Keeneland's G1 Ashland Stakes without a whip. Contessa is recognized as a major player at the two-year-old sales: a recent BloodHorse MarketWatch article ranked him second among Thoroughbred trainers over the past 15 years based on purchase price v. earnings.
It's not all about winning for Gary: his enthusiasm for the game is contagious. "I love having my family, my clients, the owners come out and see their horses train," he told us at Saratoga last year. "They get to see what their horses are up to and I love the company."
Though he started the career of Peace Rules, it was after Contessa bought him for a $35k that he sold the colt for high six figures according to Gary. Bobby Frankel trained the chestnut to a third place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Contessa has trained many good horses, but Rydilluc would be his first outright Derby starter.
After a less than stellar debut on dirt, it was the colt's second start on the Aqueduct turf in November 2012 that Contessa knew he had something: the horse had shown speed and was getting stronger under a mild hand ride late by Edgar Prado at odds of nearly 18-1.
When asked about trying the dirt again, Contessa said "I understand that we are following a dream. If it turns out I am wrong, we may still have the best grass three-year-old out there. I can accept that!" Since shipping to Keeneland a week ago, Rydilluc has flourished and his trainer believes he still has more maturing to do.
The colt had a 7f work over the PolyTrack where he finished in 24.2 for the final quarter and wanted to do more. What's even more impressive than his physical size and presence is his attention span: "He loves to stand on the track and just watch horses train," said Contessa. This is a quality very few horses have and, those that do are some of racing's greats: among them Tiznow and Zenyatta.
We watched Rydilluc for half hour on Wednesday: he doesn't get ruffled, doesn't get hot or antsy. When fellow Blue Grass rival Balance the Books came out of the paddock within feet of Rydilluc, the dark bay just looked over and nodded his head. He didn't flinch. The ability to have an intense nature but not get caught up in what's going around you is the trait of many a great horse, and certainly a horse who can keep focus for a mile and a quarter.
If the big bay colt wins the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday, he has a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Just as Babe Ruth pointed to the sky before hitting it out of the ballpark, Contessa could be doing the same with Rydilluc: he bought an unproved two-year-old at auction and swung for the fences.
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