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Chad B. Harmon

Rydilluc, Charming Kitten Rematch at Saratoga

Turf standouts will meet again Aug. 9 in Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga.

Since March, 3-year-old turf standouts Rydilluc and Charming Kitten have been on parallel schedules, clashing four times beginning with their first confrontation in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT).

Except for a wildcard run by Charming Kitten in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the two also have faced each other in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), the inaugural Penn Mile, and the July 13 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT).

The rivalry resumes Aug. 9 when Rydilluc and Charming Kitten meet again in the 29th running of the $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. II), a 1-1/16-mile turf test at Saratoga Race Course which is slated at race 8 on the card with an approximate post time of 4:47 p.m. EDT.

The Hall of Fame, restricted to 3-year-olds, drew a field of six with Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Charming Kitten and Get in Line a coupled entry and co-favored at 9-5 on the morning line. Battier was entered for the main track only.

Rydilluc, a son of Medaglia d'Oro  trained by Gary Contessa, won his first two meetings on turf with Charming Kitten. He won the Palm Beach by 3 1/2 lengths and the Penn Mile by three-quarters of a length, with Charming Kitten second both times.

Between those races, they met in the Blue Grass on the Keeneland Polytrack, and Rydilluc led deep into the stretch before fading to fourth while Charming Kitten rallied from 11th to finish third, beaten a half-length by winner Java's War .

In their most recent battle, Charming Kitten finished second by a head to War Dancer  in the Virginia Derby, while favored Rydilluc appeared to struggle on the Colonial Downs turf course labeled good and faded to eighth.

"I think that horse and my horse probably know each other," Contessa said. "They probably talk to each other going down the backside. I mean, they've run against each other so many times."

Rydilluc, 2-1 on the morning line, was undefeated on grass heading into the Virginia Derby, and Contessa has lost none of his faith in the colt. He was thrilled with a final tune-up of five furlongs in :59.87 on Saratoga's Oklahoma training track turf Aug. 2.

"I still think Rydilluc is a sensational horse, and he has worked fantastic," Contessa said. "I believe we ran poorly (in the Virginia Derby) because the turf was soft (at Colonial Downs), and my horse has trained very well since.

"His work the other day was poetry in motion. He looked phenomenal, and I had the first quarter in :25 flat and the last quarter in :22 4/5. (Jockey Edgar) Prado barely moved on him. The horse is certainly coming into the race ready, and we've just got to come out and do it."

Rydilluc has been a prominent pace presence in all his starts, and figures to be so again in the Hall of Fame with only the recently claimed Get in Line for the Ramseys and trainer Michael Maker showing a history of early speed.

Get in Line, two-for-three lifetime on turf, exits a $50,000 claiming race in which he led for nearly a half-mile before dropping back to finish fifth. If he is able to keep Rydilluc from controlling the pace of the race, it could benefit his entry-mate, Charming Kitten, who prefers to come from off the pace.

Charming Kitten has won just one stakes, Gulfstream Park's Jan. 20 Kitten's Joy Stakes, named for his sire. Still, he has consistently delivered powerful performances against top 3-year-old turf company, particularly in his most recent two starts, the Penn Mile and Virginia Derby.

"He has run really well, and we were just a little unfortunate (in the Virginia Derby) when he just missed," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He consistently shows up and runs hard every time. It's just been unfortunate. I think he's coming up to this in really good order."

Pletcher has another Hall of Fame entrant in 4-1 Notacatbutallama, who has won back-to-back stakes, the June 5 Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT) and the July 13 Solar Splendor Stakes, both at Belmont Park.

The son of Harlan's Holiday has won four stakes and has run well at Saratoga, finishing second in his debut before breaking his maiden last August by 6 1/2 lengths on the grass. He finished fourth, beaten three lengths by Balance the Books , in the With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIT), just 10 days later. Charming Kitten finished third in the With Anticipation.

"He showed a lot of talent right from the beginning," Pletcher said. "He just seems to keep getting better and better. The thing that seems a little different with him this year as opposed to last is that he has learned to polish off a race. He has had a tendency to make the lead at times and idle a little bit, but now he's beginning to finish up well."

Balance the Books, 7-2 on the morning line, is trained by Chad Brown and returns to Saratoga off a third-place finish in the Solar Splendor. He won the With Anticipation and the Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland before finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT).

Balance the Books made two starts on the Polytrack to open his 3-year-old campaign–an 11th-place finish in the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) and a sixth in the Blue Grass, before returning to the grass.

"He proved he liked the turf course here last year," Brown said. "It seems like he's rounding back into form, so we're going to give him a shot in here."

Darley Stable's 8-1 morning line entry, Kiaran McLaughlin-trained North Slope, finished fifth in the Solar Splendor, his first stakes effort, after he was squeezed exiting the starting gate. Two races prior, he hit the gate while coming out of it.

"The next time he won by 3 1/2 lengths," McLaughlin said. "We're putting blinkers on, and he's a really nice horse. He's doing great and he belongs, and he's working lights out."

$200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 8, approximate post time 4:47 p.m.EDT), 3YOs, 1 1/16 miles (inner turf)

PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Notacatbutallama (NY), J R Velasquez, 122, T A Pletcher, 4-1
2a. Get in Line (KY), A Garcia, 115, M J Maker, 9-5
3. Rydilluc (KY), E S Prado, 122, G C Contessa, 2-1
4. North Slope (KY), L Saez, 115, K P McLaughlin 8-1
5a. Charming Kitten (KY), J Rosario, 119, T A Pletcher, 9-5
6. Balance the Books (KY), J Castellano, 119, C C Brown, 7-2
7. Battier (FL) MTO, No Rider Named, 122, T A Pletcher, 8-5
a-Coupled entry
Blinkers On: North Slope