Havre de Grace & Blind Luck
HAVRE DE GRACE & BLIND LUCK AIM AT GOALS
When Larry Jones took over as the trainer of Havre de Grace earlier this year, he was immediately struck by how effortlessly she did everything. Here is a man who has trained the likes of Hard Spun, Proud Spell, and Eight Belles, and yet he says of Havre de Grace that “this is the first time in my life I thought I had the total package.”
“She is some kind of animal,” he said.
It is a reason Jones and owner Rick Porter have aimed high with Havre de Grace. Her victory against males last month in the Woodward Stakes has made Havre de Grace the most talked-about candidate for Horse of the Year, a title claimed by the female racehorses Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra the past two years.
The Woodward also became a defining moment in what until then had been the most compelling divisional rivalry in the sport. For while Havre de Grace is now being pointed for another start against males, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, the nation’s other outstanding 4-year-old filly, Blind Luck, is being prepared for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic on Nov. 4.
Both will have their final preps on Saturday, with Havre de Grace in the Beldame at Belmont Park, and Blind Luck in the Lady’s Secret at Santa Anita. Both races are part of a three-hour ESPN telecast, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
The management of both horses reflects the personalities of those in their camps. Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains and is a co-owner of Blind Luck, rarely if ever runs females against males, and has been loath to do it with Blind Luck, who, while a bit more robust than last year, is still quite slight of build. Jones and Porter, by contrast, are more willing to step out of the box when they think they have the goods.
There’s no right or wrong aspect to this, only horsemen who are truly doing what they think is best for their respective horses.
And it’s hard to argue with the results. The records of both fillies are remarkably similar. Havre de Grace has finished first or second in 11 of 13 starts and has never finished out of the money. Blind Luck, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, has finished first or second in 19 of 21 starts and also has never finished out of the money.
Beginning in July 2010, Havre de Grace and Blind Luck have met six times. Blind Luck won narrowly in their first two meetings, Havre de Grace won narrowly the third time they squared off, and then Blind Luck finished in front of Havre de Grace when they ran second and third, respectively, behind Unrivaled Belle in last year’s Ladies’ Classic.
In their two meetings this year, both at tracks where Havre de Grace was based, Havre de Grace easily handled Blind Luck in the Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn, and then Blind Luck shipped in from California and won a thriller over Havre de Grace in the Delaware Handicap.
The head-to-head score sheet reads Blind Luck 4, Havre de Grace 2. But now, because of her win against males, it is Havre de Grace who seemingly holds the upper hand, especially so for Horse of the Year.
“The greatest scenario for all of us,” Jones said, “would be for Blind Luck and Havre de Grace to be in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A mile and a quarter vs. the boys at equal weights, and let the best horse win.”
That, however, is a debate from which Hollendorfer is divorced.
“I think me and all of my owners are on the same page,” Hollendorfer said. “If she runs in the Ladies’ Classic and we win, we’ll be perfectly happy with the year we had with Blind Luck.”
Hollendorfer said where Havre de Grace runs has no bearing on what he does with Blind Luck.
“The decisions they make won’t make any difference in what we do,” Hollendorfer said. “I’m going to do what’s best for my horse, what fits for her.”
Jones and Porter, though, are trying to follow through on a plan they hatched out at the beginning of the year.
“We felt like if she was as good as we thought she was, we’d have to run against the boys at least once,” Jones said. “We put the Woodward down as an objective.”
Jones said going in the Woodward “showed the confidence we have in her.”
“She showed what we always felt, that she’s an outstanding athlete,” he said.
And the Woodward victory emboldened Jones and Porter to set their sights on the Classic. Jones called it a “very real possibility,” knowing that Horse of the Year likely hangs in the balance.
“We’re trying to give her every opportunity to earn it on the racetrack,” Jones said. “That’s why the Breeders’ Cup Classic is our number one priority.”
Other top Horse of the Year contenders pointing for the Classic include Tizway, the Met Mile and Whitney winner who was forced to skip the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday because of a recent fever, and Stay Thirsty, the rapidly improving 3-year-old who takes on elders in the Jockey Club Gold Cup following victories in the Jim Dandy and Travers stakes this summer.
The next chance for Blind Luck and Havre de Grace to meet likely won’t happen until next year. At this point, both are scheduled to remain in training at age 5. Hollendorfer said that is one reason he skipped the Pacific Classic this summer, and is not looking at the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Instead of the short-term, we’re looking at the long-term,” he said.
Jones thinks Havre de Grace doesn’t need to choose. She can have it all.
“Mr. Porter right now says she will race in 2012 if all goes well,” Jones said, “and right now, I don’t know if it could go better.”
by Jay Privman