From last summer to this summer, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace developed one of the most intense rivalries seen in Thoroughbred racing in many years, facing each other six times, with four of their clashes ending in photo finishes. Five times they finished first and second, with Bind Luck coming out on top in four of their six meetings.
Following their epic battle in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) this past July, the racing world finally became captivated by the rivalry, as both fillies emerged as the favorites for Horse of the Year honors. Just like that, they were all the rage; the stars that would light up the sport and the Breeders’ Cup.
Well, now that everyone has become immersed in the Blind Luck—Havre de Grace phenomenon, the two fillies have gone their separate ways. Havre de Grace defeated the boys in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), while Blind Luck was given the rest of the summer off in California; her first ever vacation.
Then, instead of embarking on her 10th cross-country trip back east to engage in another tough battle with her adversary, Blind Luck stayed home to point for Saturday’s Lady’s Secret (gr. I), while Havre de Grace will head up to
Once those skirmishes are over, both fillies will again go in separate directions, with Havre de Grace attempting to beat the boys again in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) and Blind Luck trying for the Ladies' Classic (gr. I), a race in which she finished second last year, with Havre de Grace third; the only time they did not finish 1-2.
One of the reasons Blind Luck is heading for the Ladies' Classic is that the plan as of now is to keep her in training next year, which is great news for a sport clamoring for a major star. If Havre de Grace is retired after the Breeders’ Cup, then the rivalry that was to rock the racing world this fall and come to an epic climax at Churchill Downs will instead fade quietly into winter with its most recent memory back in July.
“I’ll talk to the other owners out of respect, but as far as I’m concerned we’re pointing for the Ladies' Classic,” said trainer and part-owner Jerry Hollendorfer. “She came up short last year and we’d love to win it this year. We’ve been pointing for that race the last two years. If something would persuade me I could change my mind, but right now I’m focusing on the Ladies' Classic. But I don’t want to look past the Lady’s Secret. Blind Luck has a big job to do and I have a big job to do.”
Havre de Grace’s owner, Rick Porter, is on a mission, and is intent on going out of the box in order to secure the championship for his filly. If both fillies win their next two races, could we actually have a scenario where Blind Luck wins the Eclipse Award for older filly and mare and Havre de Grace Horse of the Year? It seems inconceivable, but in some ways a case can be made in order to reward both fillies, especially with Blind Luck having out-dueling Havre de Grace in their definitive showdown in the Delaware Handicap.
One thing Hollendorfer and Havre de Grace’s trainer, Larry Jones, have in common is their undying admiration for their respective fillies, who never cease to amaze them.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like watching Blind Luck run and being around her,” Hollendorfer said. “You find a special place for some of these horses, and just this morning while watching Blind Luck cool out, I said to my assistant Dan Ward, ‘I’ve never seen a horse who just keeps doing the same thing every day and never changes.'
"We keep loving her for everything she’s done. The good ones find a way to get the job done and we’re very proud of her for trying her best no matter where we’ve run her. I don’t know how she keeps managing to win those photos. She’s just that kind of horse. She’s able to time it when she runs down the lane.”
Jones paid Havre de Grace the ultimate compliment: “I never thought I would ever run into the perfect horse. You come across horses who are great at certain things, but this is the first time I’ve ever had the total package in one horse. She makes me look smart, like I can train. I tell you she is one special kind of animal. To me she is a perfect specimen—large heart, super large nostrils, packs weight; just an outstanding animal.
“Surprisingly, the Woodward took nothing out of her. She never missed a bite, and we even wound up giving her extra feed. She actually ate more than she normal does after a race. How could a horse come out of that kind of race this good? Usually there will be some body soreness, but not with her.”
Not only are these two great fillies, each has an amazing constitution, even though they are physically different, with Havre de Grace the bigger and stronger of the two. But you can bet their hearts are of equal size.
Both fillies form a rare link to the past; bringing back memories of the sport in its glory days and the amazing feats a great Thoroughbred was capable of.
Blind Luck is “The Little Engine That Could” story. From her pedigree (by a $10,000 stallion who is blind in his right eye) to her sales ring history ($11,000 yearling purchase and a $10,000 RNA as a 2-year-old) to her career debut for a claiming tag going 4 1/2 furlongs at Calder, she definitely is one of the great overachievers in racing history.
She has made an unprecedented nine cross-country trips in 15 months, taking on all comers on their home track at all distances and giving away weight. And how many times was she, as a stone closer, at a major disadvantage competing in four, five, and six- horse fields? The answer is nine times; five of them in five-horse fields. But still she came.
Here is a filly who has traveled an amazing 36,000 miles in the aforementioned 15 months, has run a total of 21 times, and has finished first or second in 19 of them and has never finished out of the money. In all, she has competed at nine different racetracks in seven states at distances from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles.
After defeating Havre de Grace by a neck in last year’s Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at 1 1/4 miles at equal weights, Blind Luck shipped back east to Philly Park for the Cotillion, dropped back in distance to 1 1/16 miles, and was beaten a diminishing neck by Havre de Grace, while giving her 10 pounds. Sending her for that race, in which she was at such a huge disadvantage, had to be one of the great sporting gestures seen in years.
How many times have we seen Blind Luck apparently on the verge of defeat, almost to the point where she looked as if she were hanging, only to manage to stick her head in front right on the wire? It is uncanny how she knows exactly when to get her head down.
And as for the numbers crunching, what about Blind Luck coming home her final quarter in :24 1/5 in the Delaware Handicap, following a :24 flat quarter and a :23 4/5 quarter before that? And Havre de Grace’s final quarter in :24 2/5 was awfully impressive as well, considering she was the one stalking the pace. To demonstrate the magnitude of the Delaware Handicap, the two fillies finished a staggering 18 1/2 lengths ahead of last year’s Delaware Handicap winner Life At Ten.
Said Jones of Havre de Grace, “People don’t realize that in the Apple Blossom, she came home her final sixteenth in :05 4/5, and horses just don't do that. This filly has a cruising speed that forces other horses to run hard to keep up with her while she’s still galloping. By the time they get to the three-quarters those other horses are usually done. And they gotta let her do it; they got no other choice.”
Havre de Grace displayed that cruising speed in the Woodward with quarters of :24 2/5, :23 4/5, :23 3/5, and :24, before coming home her final eighth in a solid :12 4/5 against six graded stakes winning males, including two grade I winners.
Blind Luck, the $11,000 yearling and 2-year-old sale reject by a $10,000 stallion who was tough as nails as a racehorse, and Havre de Grace, the $380,000 yearling by a $50,000 stallion, have now finished in the money in all 33 of their starts, with 18 wins and 11 seconds.
They have met six times, and other than the 3 1/4-length margin of the Azeri (gr. II), in which Havre de Grace dominated Blind Luck, they have been separated by a nose, a nose, a neck, a neck, and one length.
Both these fillies have come from totally different worlds, but as Thoroughbred racing has shown time and time again, it doesn’t matter where a horse comes from. Once in a while two horses will cross paths who possess the same talent, the same heart, and the same will to win. But only on a rare occasion will you find two such horses cross paths six times. The question now is, will the sixth time be the last? Let’s hope not.