Three main rivals, Rydilluc, Jack Milton, and Charming Kitten, headline a field of 10 3-year-olds for the 1 1/4-mile turf event. The trio reconvenes after knocking heads last time out in the inaugural Penn Mile at Penn National Race Course where Rydilluc prevailed over Charming Kitten and Jack Milton, respectively.
With his score in the March 3 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park, Rydilluc is one of only two graded stakes-winning starters on the card, along with the War Front colt, Jack Milton, winner of Keenland's Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) in April.
Highweight Rydilluc will carry 123 pounds and break from post 4 with regular rider Edgar Prado, who holds the record for most wins (three) in the Virginia Derby. Jack Milton, the field's second highweight, will carry 121 pounds. John Velasquez, who has ridden Jack Milton in all of his four starts has the mount from post 5.
The Virginia Derby is the featured seventh race on the evening card and has an approximate post time of 8:12 p.m. EDT.
A veritable litter of Kitten's Joy will start in this year's Virginia Derby. Ken and Sarah Ramsey will send out two homebred sons of their stallion: Charming Kitten, trained by Todd Pletcher, and the Wesley Ward-trained gelding Redwood Kitten; and Frank D. Irvin's Fear the Kitten will make his first start since a fourth-place finish June 1 in the Springfield Stakes at Arlington Park.
Redwood Kitten captured his last start in the James W. Murphy Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on the May 18 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) undercard. Previously, he finished third to rival Jack Milton in the Transylvania (his only prior graded stakes effort) and third to Charming Kitten's victory in the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream.
Mike Maker trainee Fear the Kitten will attempt to get back on the board after a string of out-of-the-money finishes. In his last placed finish he was a distant runner-up to Super Ninety Nine in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park.
Another son of War Front will break from the gate with Jack Milton: allowance winner War Dancer comes to the race off a second-place finish in the June 15 Centaur Stakes at Indiana Downs. In his only graded stakes start he registered a third-place finish in the America Turf Stakes (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs. War Dancer and Jack Milton also shared their debut in January at Gulfstream: War Dancer finished third to Jack Milton's 2 1/2-victory.
Dual grade I turf winner and sire Shakespeare is represented in the Virginia Derby field with two colts. Gefest, an allowance winner trained by Gennadi Dorocencko, comes in off a fourth-place finish in the June 16 Pegasus Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth Park. In his previous start he finished fourth, but was placed third in the Arlington Classic (gr. IIIT), his only start on the grass.
Shakepeare's other son, Readyshakego, has raced exclusively on the turf, winning his debut in January at Gulfstream. In his last start he captured an allowance at the Virginia Derby trip June 8 at Colonial. He is the only horse in the field that has raced at the New Kent, Va., oval or won at the distance.
Rounding out the field are Raut's Bethel, a son of Pulpit and allowance winner trained by Dorochencko; and Draw Two, a Macho Uno colt who goes out for owner Dennis Narlinger. Bethel's last start was in the Pegasus, where he finished third, just ahead of Gefest. In the money in all of his four starts (all on the grass) for trainer Michelle Nihei, lightly raced Draw Two hopes to extend his winning streak to three with this first graded stakes effort. His last two starts were wins in an October maiden special weight and a May allowance race, both at Belmont Park.