Countdown to the Cup: Blind Sided
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 8/24/2010 8:39:12 AM
Last Updated: 9/8/2010 5:58:40 PM

Blind Luck returns to the winner's circle after the Alabama Stakes.
Photo: Coglianese Photos

There is nothing blind or lucky about Blind Luck. When it comes to seeing the finish line she has 20/20 vision, and despite her running style, she makes her own luck.

In Blind Luck and her California compatriot, Evening Jewel, respective winners of the grade I Alabama and Del Mar Oaks, you have a pair of fierce fillies with a flair for the dramatics.

 

Blind Luck epitomizes what this sport is all about -- she humbles the experts, inspires the story tellers, and captivates the fans with her indomitable will to win. And she does it all despite her humble beginnings and undesirability in the sales ring, on the track, and privately. In short, she was the horse no one wanted.

 

Her connections represent the very best in sportsmanship, shipping her cross-country four times this year, winning the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn, the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, the Delaware Oaks (gr. II) at Delaware Park, and now the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. She also won the Las Virgenes (gr. I) at Santa Anita this year, and the Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) at Hollywood Park, Oak Leaf (gr. I) at Santa Anita, and races at Del Mar and Calder last year.

 

She has won at six different distances from 4 ½ furlongs to 1 ¼ miles in six different states, and she’s won on fast and sloppy dirt tracks and all three California synthetic tracks. And despite her come-from-behind running style and encountering some ridiculously slow fractions, she has never finished out of the money in 13 career starts, winning nine of them. To demonstrate her will to win and knack for knowing where the finish line is, in her five victories this year, three have been by a nose and one by a neck.

 

It is no wonder why Blind Luck is admired and held in such deep affection by those close to her.

 

Her exercise rider, Archie Cross, son of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winning trainer David Cross, stood on the track waiting for Blind Luck to return following her victory in the $500,000 Betfair TVG Alabama Stakes Aug. 21. He seemed numb after experiencing yet another of Blind Luck’s heart-pounding wins.

 

“Oh, wow. What a racehorse,” he said.  “Words aren’t coming. It’s just a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

 

Her trainer and part owner, Jerry Hollendorfer, said, “I give Blind Luck all the credit. She’s the one that has to do all the traveling and all the work. I just get to train a very good filly who seems to get the job done every race.”

 

But for Mark Dedomenico, who owns 50% of Blind Luck with partners John Carver, Peter Abruzzo, and Hollendorfer, the Alabama victory meant redemption for what he believed to be an injustice regarding last year’s Eclipse Award voting, in which Blind Luck lost out to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner She Be Wild.

 

“Maybe the writers will vote for us this year,” he said, citing an East Coast bias. “They didn’t last year. We got left out of the Eclipse Awards.

 

“No one can say this horse won’t run anywhere; we’re not the kind to duck anybody. We sure didn’t duck (Devil May Care). We ran on her track, and they said this jockey (Joel Rosario) wouldn’t know his way around here, but he did all right. They were going very slow early, but he saw what was happening.

 

“This track wasn’t playing to her running style today, so she showed just how good she is. You only get one of these in a lifetime, so you better have fun when you do get one. Every time she comes she comes to run, no matter what track she’s at. But you have to be careful, because she gives you heart failure. Fortunately, I’m starting to get used to it.”

 

Blind Luck is now the clear leader of the 3-year-old filly division, giving Dedomenico, who has been on a mission all year, great satisfaction.

 

“We’re doing everything and going every place because this time we want the Eclipse Award,” he said.

 

The story of Blind Luck began on the afternoon of Dec. 18, 2005. Trainer Steve Flint was running a 4-year-old filly named Lucky One in a $15,000 claiming race for owners Bert and Elaine Klein.

 

At the track that day were veterinarian Bill Baker and his wife, Terry, who own 55-acre Fairlawn Farm in Versailles, Ky., and usually keep a few horses they can’t sell and run them at Turfway Park. They had a filly in that same race, but took notice of a big, scopey bay filly that fit all their criteria for a broodmare.

 

Flint told them he was trying to get down to Florida, but was stuck in Kentucky trying to get this filly claimed. Bill Baker asked him who she was, and Flint told him her name was Lucky One and that she was a half-sister to Ethan Man, who had won the Swale Stakes (gr. II) for West Point Stable.

 

The Bakers do a lot of work for West Point and currently have eight horses for them on their farm. They remembered Ethan Man well, recalling that he suffered from arthritis in his ankle. Baker offered Flint $20,000 for the filly, but the Kleins wanted to continue to race her and then breed her. Baker couldn’t figure out why they would turn down more money than she was running for, but told Flint he was going to claim her the next time she ran.

 

Lucky One showed up again for $15,000 10 days later, and this time Baker put in a claim for her, but with several other claims in the box, he had to win the shake to get her.

 

The Bakers and their trainer Joe Cain ran her for $30,000 and she finished third. Not wanting to risk losing her off that race, they ran her back in an allowance race on Feb. 22, but, like her brother, she suffered from arthritis, and after a well-beaten sixth-place finish, they decided to retire her.

 

The Bakers are good friends with John Greely of Wintergreen Stallion Station, and they wound up breeding her three times to Five Star Day, but failed to get a foal. Three times is the limit for Baker, so he approached Jamie Hill, who handled Wintergreen’s stallion bookings and shares, and he suggested they try another of their stallions, Pollard’s Vision, who had the same cross.

 

They got a foal on the first cover. The foal, eventually named Blind Luck, showed the same determination as a baby she would on the racetrack. Terry said she was tough as a foal and tough as a yearling.

 

They consigned her to the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky yearling sale, but there was little interest in a long, leggy filly by Pollard's Vision  , and she received only a single bid of $11,000 from Florida horseman Juvenal Diaz.

 

Diaz liked the fact she was a late April foal and only 14 months old and still immature. But she was athletic, had a great walk, and did everything aggressively.

 

“After I bought her, I was really happy, because she was very game even back then,” Diaz said. “From day one, she wanted to train all the time and always wanted to go. I couldn’t keep her from training. I had to train her early, because she just wanted to get out and do something. If you got her out early she would come back and lie down and relax. She was always a very happy filly. If you put her out in the field, she’d run for three or four hours. She just loved to play.

 

“I don’t like to work horses fast, but you won’t get any money if you don’t train by the clock. I worked her in :10 3/5 (for the Ocala 2-year-old sale) and she did it easily and came back good, but no one would even give $10,000 for her, so I had to buy her back. I told everyone this filly could run and that I never got to the bottom of her, but no one was interested.”

 

Following the sale, Diaz, who sells all his horses, tried to offer her to several people, but there still were no takers. So, Diaz had to race her, and entered her in a 4 ½-furlong $40,000 maiden claimer at Calder, only because there was no other place to run her for that price.

 

It was a friend of his who named the filly. Diaz admitted he is bad at naming horses, and he told his friend, “Just put down whatever name you want. I got to run her, so I need a name.”

 

Despite running that short and drawing post 9 in the 10-horse field, Blind Luck annihilated her field, winning by 13 ¼ lengths.

 

Diaz used that performance as his sales pitch, but still, no one had any interest in buying her. One of his main clients didn’t have the money, and those who did show some interest offered very little, because she had only won at 4 ½ furlongs. He even offered her to Angel Cordero, who is a good friend.

 

“I waited a week for him to get his guy to commit to buy her, but he couldn’t come up with the money,” Diaz said.

 

Diaz was friends with Hollendorfer and he called him and said, “Jerry, you gotta take this filly; she can really run. If you don’t take her, I’m gonna run her back in a $100,000 stakes. The farther she goes, the better she’ll get. The only reason she won at 4 ½ furlongs is because that’s where I put her. She would have won no matter what distance I ran her at.’

 

“Afterward, Jerry asked me, ‘Do you think she’s worth the money?’ and I told him, ‘You didn’t even pay for one leg of what that filly is worth.’”

 

Hollendorfer added, “When we bought her we thought she had great potential. I’m in on a lot of horses and I really wanted to be in on this one. Mark wanted to buy all of the horse, but I wanted him to take a half, and I took a quarter, and Peter and John also came in.”

 

Diaz has no regrets selling Blind Luck. “I don’t keep any of them,” he said. “Even if I had a horse who was 1-9 in the Kentucky Derby, if somebody offered me the right money, he can have him.”

 

So, Blind Luck went to Hollendorfer in California, won a $40,000 starter allowance race at Del Mar, and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

In the Alabama, which turned into a classic East vs. West showdown, Blind Luck raced in last through agonizingly slow fractions of :49.45, 1:14.81, and 1:39.29, but was only five lengths behind the pace-setting Acting Happy, and always had Devil May Care in her sights.

 

Devil May Care, as expected, got first run on Blind Luck and quickly pulled to a half-length of the leaders at the head of the stretch, as Rosario swung Blind Luck wide for her run.

 

But Devil May Care, the 3-5 favorite, surprisingly hit the proverbial brick wall after turning for home and was unable to sustain her move. Blind Luck, however, kept coming with her typical relentless stretch run. Havre de Grace, whom she had defeated by a nose in the Delaware Oaks, wrested command at the eighth pole and was hanging tough, but Blind Luck, who seems to know where the finish line is, gave her typical surge and was able to eke out another narrow victory, covering the 1 ¼ miles in 2:03.89, paying $5.60 as the 9-5 second choice.

 

Havre de Grace was 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Acting Happy, who finished 2 ¾ lengths ahead of a disappointing Devil May Care.

 

Blind Luck is now the undisputed queen of the 3-year-old fillies, and even has her own groupies, as Bill and Terry Baker follow her everywhere, attending all her races.

 

“Thankfully, Jerry doesn’t mind that we follow her all around,” Terry Baker said.

 

In the Trustees Room following the Alabama, Terry was like a proud parent, showing off pictures of Lucky One and her 2010 Successful Appeal filly on her blackberry. And for very good reason: “This will never happen to us again,” Terry said. “It’s an achievement you try all your life to accomplish.”

 

As Bill watched the replay, he noticed Blind Luck’s tail sticking straight out, horizontal to the ground.

 

“Look at that tail,” he said. “That’s her trademark; she’s done that all her life.”

 

Terry said that their farm is right behind WinStar Farm, and pointed out that this year’s Kentucky Derby winner (Super Saver) and Kentucky Oaks winner were bred within a half-mile of each other.

 

“It’s been an amazing journey,” she said. “And this race today is a fairy tale ending.”

 

Another Jewel

 

But for a nose defeat to Blind Luck in the Kentucky Oaks, Evening Jewel might be the one who sits atop the 3-year-old filly division. But to Blind Luck’s credit, she has twice nailed Evening Jewel on the wire this year, and Evening Jewel had a perfect trip both times.

 

Following her defeat in the Kentucky Oaks, Evening Jewel was put on the turf by trainer Jim Cassidy, and the daughter of Northern Afleet has won all three of her starts – the Honeymoon (gr. II) at Hollywood Park, the San Clemente (gr. II) at Del Mar, and most recently the Del Mar Oaks.

 

Like Blind Luck, Evening Jewel loves to scrap and is as dogged as her rival. Following a troubled sixth-place finish in her career debut last August, she’s run first or second in her next 11 starts, winning six. Each of her last eight starts has been decided by a length or less, and the biggest margin of victory of her career has been three-quarters of a length. She can beat you on the lead or just off the lead.

 

She has finished first or second in grade I stakes on dirt, grass, Keeneland’s Polytrack, and Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride.

 

In the Del Mar Oaks, she was as tenacious as usual. After sitting behind horses waiting for room, she came out to avoid clipping heels, cut back to the inside, and after getting a short lead inside the eighth pole, gamely held off the American Oaks (gr. IT) winner Harmonious to win by a half-length, coming home her final eighth in about :11 flat to complete the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.27.

 

It will be interesting to see if these two warriors hook up again and if Cassidy will return Evening Jewel to the dirt – if not this year, next year. At this point, it seems unlikely for this year, with her next target being the grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup over the Keeneland turf course.

 

Turf fest at Arlington

 

Arlington’s turf bonanza offered something for everyone, with Paddy O'Prado   continuing his dominance over the Eastern turf 3-year-olds in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT), Éclair de Lune’s emotional victory for Richard Duchossois in the grade I Beverly D. Stakes, named after his late wife, and European invader Dubussy’s stunning upset over 4-5 favorite Gio Ponti after bursting through along the inside with an explosive stretch run.

 

Dubussy has back class, having won last year’s group II Prix Eugene Adam at Maisons-Laffitte, and was on Lasix for the first time, but Gio Ponti  , who has now lost six of his last seven starts, had another unfortunate trip, having to swing six-wide at the head of the stretch. He still looked like a winner until Debussy came out of nowhere to beat him a half-length.

 

This was not one of the stronger Arlington Million fields, and Gio Ponti definitely looked like the class of the field. But as well as he’s run since last year’s string of four straight grade I wins, he has somehow managed to find a way to lose, and in his one victory, he cut it awfully close in his neck score in the Man o’War Stakes over a 53-1 shot.

 

Despite his defeats, Gio Ponti still is the best middle-distance older turf horse in America, and just needs a little bit of luck. Whether he can handle top-class Europeans at a mile and a half remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see if they stretch him out or try again for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, even though this year’s running is on dirt, a surface on which he has never won.

 

Paddy O'Prado is a machine on the turf, and he defeated a solid field in the Secretariat, winning under a hand ride late. He's not to shabby on dirt either, at least in the slop. The fractions in the Secretariat were no more than a crawl, but to his credit, he he came home his last quarter in about :22 3/5. His future is limitless.



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