Grace Hall probably won’t be the favorite when they line up in the gate for the $1 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) Nov. 4—that honor will likely go to My Miss Aurelia—but trainer Tony Dutrow would not change positions with anyone.
Undefeated in three starts, Grace Hall has done nothing wrong since Dutrow helped pick her out for owners Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and The Elkstone Group for $95,000 at the Keeneland September 2010 yearling sale. Based at Delaware Park with Dutrow, the daughter of Empire Maker
—Season’s Greetings, by Ezzoud, completed her final preparations for the Juvenile Fillies Oct. 30 when breezing an easy four furlongs in :49 on a sloppy track.
“I don’t know what the other horses have--I respect them all--but I have to feel very good about the way she is coming into this race,” Dutrow said. “She’s in great shape, is well prepared, and she belongs in this there.”
Dutrow, who will be saddling his fourth Breeders’ Cup starter with Grace Hall, said the bay filly fit the profile of the kind of yearling he likes to buy. She was under the six-figure price tag that he allots himself, had a nice but not a regal pedigree, and was athletic looking.
He sent her to Brett Brinkman in Ocala, Fla., to be broken, and found out right away he had a promising runner.
“She came to me in May and I asked Brett where I should start her,” Dutrow said. “I like to keep my better ones at Delaware with me, and he said, ‘Start her at Delaware.’ They didn’t say she was special, but definitely a nice one. It didn’t take her long to prove that.”
In her first start on July 30 at Delaware Park, Grace Hall went wire-to-wire to break her maiden by three lengths at six furlongs. It was a good enough effort for Dutrow to take her to Saratoga for the Sept. 4 Spinaway Stakes (gr. I).
Not only did she win that race by 1 3/4 lengths, but she did it professionally while proving that she was not a need-the-lead type horse. She sat fourth in the early going under Ramon Dominguez before rallying in the stretch to beat a nice group of fillies.
“She trained really good up to that race but I didn’t know what to expect,” Dutrow said. “I was happy to see her sit off the pace and pull away nicely.”
Dutrow said after the Spinaway they started thinking Breeders’ Cup, but picking the right spot for her prep took a lot of thought. They thought about the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, which is the usual stepping stone for Spinaway winners, but Dutrow did not like the fact that it was only one turn.
They also considered the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland, which is two turns, but Dutrow wasn’t crazy about running her on Polytrack. So they settled on the Oct. 1 Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park, a two-turn, one-mile-and-70-yard race she wound up dominating by 5 3/4 lengths.
Dutrow knows the Blue Hen field wasn’t exactly stacked and is not a traditional Breeders’ Cup prep, but he liked its location and the way it fit Grace Hall’s schedule.
“She got to walk right out of her stall and run a two-turn race on dirt,” he said. “I think she appreciated it and the timing of the race was right. It was perfect for what we wanted.”
Since the Blue Hen, Grace Hall has had three nice works at Delaware—all four furlongs—and in the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile Fillies will be reunited with top rider Dominguez. All signs are pointing to her running a big race at Churchill Downs.
“It would be nice to win my first Breeders’ Cup race but it’s not about me, it’s about helping Grace Hall be all she can be,” said Dutrow, who sent out Joyful Victory
to finish fourth in this race last year. “No matter what happens, I think she’s going to be a very good 3-year-old. It would be nice to win for the owners, who are a great bunch of guys.”
Grace Hall was expected to ship to Kentucky Oct. 31.