The inaugural running of the $500,000 Penn Mile at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course proved the ideal place for Rydilluc to make his case for being the top 3-year-old turf horse in the country.
In a race that attracted some of the leading stables and jockeys in the country, Rydilluc ran comfortably behind 99-1 long shot Yougothtatgoinforu, moved to the lead on the far turn and sprinted home to win by three-quarters of a length. Charming Kitten, fresh off a run in the Kentucky Derby, finished second, three-quarters of a length back and a nose in front of Jack Milton.
The Penn Mile proved an instant success. All-sources wagering on the race alone came to $1,139,478, far and away the largest single-race handle in the 40-year history of the track. The previous record was for the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup Handicap on August 1, 2009, which handled $377,365.
After four races on the Saturday night card, the all-source handle already had reached $2,281,425, surpassing the previous all-time best handle for a full race card, $2,173,921, on December 26, 1998.
In the winners circle after the race, New York-based trainer Gary Contessa exuded excitement at the quality of his horse and having won the first Penn Mile.
“This absolutely ranks as one of my top two races of my career,” said Contessa, who said his other finest moment came in the 1992 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland with Do It With Style. “I'm thrilled. It's the horse. It's the race. Penn National is going to be on the map because of this race. This is a great race, and the timing is great. Next year it will be graded for the next guy.”
The first Penn Mile drew more than 50 nominations and attracted Rydilluc, winner of the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes, along with Noble Tune, a Grade 2 stakes winner, Grade 3 winner Jack Milton, and turf standout Charming Kitten among the field of eight.
When the gate opened, Yougothtatgoinforu spurted out to a length lead and set moderate opening fractions of 23.55 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 47.84 seconds for the half. Rydilluc, under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado, found a comfortable spot on the outside, clear in second, followed by Pitch N Roll and Charming Kitten.
The pace quickened dramatically in the second half of the race. While Charming Kitten, trained by Todd Pletcher, rallied on the inside, and his stablemate, Jack Milton, rallied on the outside, Rydilluc cut through the final quarter-mile in 22.84 seconds, the final eighth in a sizzling 11.24 seconds.
No one was catching him.
The final time was 1:33.99, less than a second off the track record.
The winner, who went off as the 7-5 favorite, paid $5.20 for a $2 win bet.
“I think the horse is improving every time he runs,” Prado said. “Today, as you see, he came home running against nice horses, and I'm very proud he's getting better and better. Gary's doing a super job with the horse.”
Pitch N Roll finished fourth, followed by Noble Tune, Are You Kidding Me, Triple Cross and Yougoththatgoinforu.
The winner earned $276,000 for owners Leonard Green, Harold Lerner, Jeff Massaro, Tammy Bobo, Sean Shay, Peter and Henry Baker, Bruce and Linda McConnell, and Jennifer Contessa. He improved his record to four wins from six starts.
Gary Contessa said Rydilluc likely will run next in the Grade 2, $500,000 Virginia Derby next on July 13 at Colonial Downs.
“He just stamped himself as arguably the best 3-year-old turf horse right now, and we're going to stay there,” Contessa said.
See the full chart here.
$500,000 Penn Mile Quotes
Edgar Prado, winning jockey of #7 Rydilluc: “I got lucky to work the horse (after his career debut) and I really liked him. Me and Gary both agreed that if we put him on the grass the horse is going to move forward, and that's exactly what he did. He ran a real good race in the Blue Grass; he just got beat a length and a half. I think the horse is improving every time he runs. Today, as you see, he came home running against nice horses, and I'm very proud he's getting better and better. Gary's doing a super job with the horse.
“I wanted to sit right off the leader. He placed himself very comfortably; he was pricking his ears. I was very happy where I was. It was just a matter of time where I can press the button and let him roll, and when I did he came home very strong. You could see the track was fast. The grass was nice and firm, and you're expecting a nice, good turf to run on. He run on a hard track on Gulfstream, and a soft track at Aqueduct, so he's adjusting to everything.
Winning the first Penn Mile: “You don't have to chase the dream, you've already got it!”
Gary Contessa, winning trainer of #7 Rydilluc: “He just stamped himself as arguably the best 3-year-old turf horse right now, and we're going to stay there. I'd say next stop Virginia Derby and then on to the Secretariat and then let's try to win a race with him at Saratoga as well. He got it all together today and he looked magnificent doing it. I wanted to be snuggly behind a 99-1 shot for sure! That's how he won the Palm Beach, that's how he won most of his turf races, just stalking the pace. He had the opportunity again, and, hey, if that 99-1 shot (Yougotthatgoinforu) didn't go to the lead, I would have been happy to go to the lead. But they're going to have to give it to me; I'm not going to send him to the lead. So, it was perfect, it set up very well.
“I won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, which was a great moment because I took the whip away from that filly the day of the race, and she won it with no whip. That was Do It With Style in 1992. This absolutely ranks as one of my top two races of my career. I'm thrilled. It's the horse. It's the race. Penn National is going to be on the map because of this race. This is a great race, and the timing is great. Next year it will be graded for the next guy.”
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