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Ryan Honors Late Friend by Naming Racehorse Dilger

The 3-year-old colt is named for Gerry Dilger, a revered horseman who died in 2020.

Dilger (inside) scores a narrow maiden win at Gulfstream Park

Dilger (inside) scores a narrow maiden win at Gulfstream Park

Coglianese Photos/Ryan Thompson

Mike Ryan's Dilger will kindle plenty of emotion when he goes to the post for the 42nd running of the $400,000 Lexington Stakes (G3) April 13 at Keeneland. The 3-year-old colt is named for Gerry Dilger, a cherished Central Kentucky breeder, owner, and bloodstock agent who died at age 61 in 2020.

"Gerry is in my mind every day," said Ryan, who bred Dilger under his Demers Bloodstock banner and named him for his close friend. "He was a terrific human being, wonderful friend, and great family man. He was respected and admired by everyone. We were friends and business partners for 40 years, and he left a void in my life. I asked the Dilger (family) if I could name him in Gerry's honor, and they were delighted. I thought it would be appropriate to name a horse that I really liked who would run in our own colors in Gerry's memory."

MITCHELL: Dilger Dies at Age 61

Starting from post 3 for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., Dilger enters the Lexington off a nose victory at Gulfstream Park in a March 16 maiden race under Tyler Gaffalione, who returns in the irons Saturday. Dilger is 12-1 on the morning line.

"He has a lot of talent," Ryan said about Dilger. "We are trying to figure out if he wants to go two turns; he is bred to go two turns. He likes to have a horse (in front) to run at. That is when he is at his best."

By leading European-based sire Lope de Vega, Dilger is from the family of 2022 Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner Zandon . Ryan, as agent, purchased Zandon at Keeneland's 2020 September Yearling Sale for owner Jeffrey Drown.

Gerry Dilger, a native of County Clare, Ireland, came to the United States at 19. In 1994, he established Dromoland Farm in Lexington, which soon evolved into a leading breeder and consignor. In the name of Santa Rosa Partners, he and Ryan bred 2017 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming , sold by Dromoland at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

breeders Mike Ryan and Gerry Dilger (Santa Rosa) at Dromoland Farm near Lexington.  May 8, 2017 Dromoland in Lexington, Ky.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
(L-R:) Mike Ryan and Gerry Dilger in 2017 at Dromoland Farm

In 2018, Dilger was honored with the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association's annual Wild Geese Award, presented to an individual who has excelled outside of his or her native Ireland while "flying the Irish flag with pride on a global stage."

Now, he is also remembered through the Gerry Dilger Equine Scholarship, which was established soon after his death for young people interested in careers in the Thoroughbred industry.

On Saturday, Dilger's widow, Erin, and two of their three children, Claire and Joseph, are expected to be at Keeneland. Ryan and the Dilgers' other child, Grace, will be unable to attend.

"The Stonestreet (Lexington Stakes) is in our hometown," Ryan said. "My family will be there, and the Dilgers will be there. There will be lots of sentiment and emotion like the day (the colt) won at Gulfstream."

This press release has been edited for content and style by BloodHorse Staff.