Blind Luck and Havre de Grace: Looking Back at a Great Rivalry

Legends
Blind Luck (outside) edged Havre de Grace by a nose in the 2011 Delaware Handicap, the final meeting in a six-race rivalry between two of the best fillies of the early 21st century. (Eclipse Sportswire)

When the field loaded into the starting gate for the Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park on July 10, 2010, all eyes were on the 1-5 favorite. Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Blind Luck was a firmly established superstar by that point, having won five graded stakes races including the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

Two spots to her outside in the gate, no one thought much of Havre de Grace, a late-blooming filly for trainer Tony Dutrow. Although she received some wagering attention, few considered her a worthy opponent to the California-based champion. She has never won a stakes race before, nor had she competed outside the Mid-Atlantic region.

No one watching that day could have imagined that, over the next 12 months, these two fillies would face off six times, exchanging victories while providing racing fans with memorable battles. In their final showdown, at the same track just over a year later, they delivered a grand finale to their rivalry in a race for the ages.


Background

Blind Luck had humble origins. A chestnut filly sired by multiple graded stakes winner Pollard’s Vision, she was purchased for only $11,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky yearling sale in 2008. She made her debut at Calder Race Course, in Miami, Fla., on June 21, 2009 in a $40,000 maiden claiming race. Bettors sent her off at 5.70-1 in a 10-horse field.

However, Blind Luck exceeded expectations and then some in that debut, drawing off impressively to score by 13 ¼ lengths. That race caught the attention of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. After her win, Hollendorfer, in partnership with Mark DeDomenico and John Carver, privately purchased Blind Luck and sent her to southern California (Peter Abruzzo would later join the partnership). She won two Grade 1 races as a 2-year-old, winning the Oak Leaf Stakes by 2 ½ lengths and the Hollywood Starlet Stakes by seven lengths.

Blind Luck (outside) wins the Kentucky Oaks. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Expectations were high going into her 3-year-old season. Blind Luck became well-known among racing fans not only for her big victories, but also for her dramatic running style. In the spirit of another top female horse of the era, Zenyatta, Blind Luck tended to drop towards the back of the pack early on and then make a big move as she neared the stretch run. It rarely made for easy wins, but she usually found a way to get the job done.

In her first three starts of 2010, Blind Luck won the Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita Park by a nose, lost a three-horse photo in the Santa Anita Oaks and then took the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park by 3 ½ lengths. As the 13-10 favorite in the Kentucky Oaks, Blind Luck was last of 14 early on, falling eleven lengths off the pace in the first half-mile. But under vigorous urging from Rafael Bejarano in the stretch, Blind Luck summoned a rally yet again, surging to victory by a nose over Evening Jewel. Her win under the twin spires cemented her status as the best member of her crop.

In contrast to Blind Luck, Havre de Grace was a later-developing filly. The daughter of 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam had high expectations from the start, having sold for $380,000 at the Keeneland September yearling auction in 2008. She was purchased by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, who had developed a string of top 3-year-olds in the late 2000s  including Hard Spun, Eight Belles, and Friesan Fire.

Havre de Grace raced twice as a 2-year-old. She broke her maiden in her second career start at Delaware Park on Sept. 30, 2009, winning a one mile and seventy yard-maiden race by 4 ¾ lengths. Following that race, she went to the sidelines until May 2010, when she made 3-year-old debut a winning one, taking a first-level allowance at Philadelphia Park by 1 ¼ lengths. In her next start, Havre De Grace was second by a neck in the Go For Wand Stakes at Delaware on June 5. One day later, Blind Luck finished second to Switch in the Hollywood Oaks, her first start since winning the Kentucky Oaks.


First Meeting: Delaware Oaks, Delaware Park, July 10, 2010

Despite their defeats, the fillies pressed on to the Delaware Oaks. Blind Luck was the consensus choice in the 1 1/16-mile race, listed as the even-money morning line favorite and dropping down to 1-5 by post time.

Tony Dutrow expressed cautious optimism about Havre de Grace going into the Delaware Oaks, telling BloodHorse, “We are hoping she continues to move forward and she has led us to believe that she will, but Blind Luck is a well accomplished filly that deserves a great deal of respect.” His filly was the 6.60-1 third choice, just behind Go For Wand winner No Such Word.

Over a sloppy track, Havre de Grace enjoyed a great stalking trip off leader Derwin’s Star, while Blind Luck took her usual spot at the back of the pack. As the field turned for home, Blind Luck made her patented bold bid for the lead, while Derwin’s Star hung on gamely towards the inside and Havre de Grace tussled between horses. Havre de Grace pulled clear of Derwin’s Star in the last sixteenth but then had to deal with Blind Luck, who continued to surge under Joel Rosario. Both fillies fought hard in the final few strides, but Blind Luck got up to win by a nose.

While both fillies competed well in the Grade 2 event, few saw the Delaware Oaks as the start of a budding rivalry. Blind Luck’s victory set her up well for a try in the Alabama Stakes against Devil May Care, considered the top 3-year-old filly in the east. Havre de Grace, despite the gutsy effort, was not yet considered in their league. Score: Blind Luck 1, Havre de Grace 0.


Second Meeting: Alabama Stakes, Saratoga, Aug. 21, 2010

All the headlines leading up to the Alabama Stakes centered on the Blind Luck vs. Devil May Care showdown. Devil May Care had won three stakes races that year, including the Mother Goose Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Malibu Moon filly was tenth in the Kentucky Derby.

Havre de Grace was considered a fringe player. “She'll need to be at the top of her game to win in this spot and even that might not be enough,” wrote an analyst at SB Nation a few days before the race, and that was a common sentiment. As such, Havre de Grace was sent off at odds of 7.20-1 in the six-horse Alabama field. Devil May Care closed at 3-4 post-time odds, while Blind Luck was 9-5.

Breaking from the outside, jockey Jeremy Rose dropped Havre de Grace over to the inside as soon as he could and rated right off three double-digit longshots in the early stages of 1 ¼-mile test. The early fractions were slow, and as a result, Blind Luck was forced to keep close to the pace even as she trailed, sitting about five lengths away through the far turn. In the stretch, Havre de Grace was angled off the rail for a shot at the lead and took charge. Devil May Care had also reached contention, but she flattened out in the stretch and Blind Luck flew past her with a four-wide bid. The two fillies battled in the last sixteenth, and once again, Rosario and Blind Luck got the upper hand to defeat Havre de Grace by a neck.

Blind Luck was now the undisputed leader of her division, but the seeds of rivalry had been sown. Twice Blind Luck had squared off against Havre de Grace, and twice Havre de Grace had shown great determination in narrow defeats. Score: Blind Luck 2, Havre de Grace 0.


Third Meeting: Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes, Philadelphia Park, Oct. 2, 2010

Havre de Grace takes the Cotillion over Blind Luck. (Eclipse Sportswire)

By the time of the Cotillion Stakes, Havre de Grace had established herself as one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country. Still, Blind Luck continued to command all the attention heading into their third matchup. Breaking from the inside post in the 1 1/16-mile Cotillion, Blind Luck was the 7-10 favorite and Havre de Grace was the 6-5 second choice, the lowest price she had gone off at since her maiden win more than a year prior. Only three others dared to challenge the duo.

The two fillies assumed their usual positions early on – Havre de Grace and Rose rated right off the lead, while Blind Luck under Rosario lingered along in last place. As the field entered the stretch, Havre de Grace overhauled the pacesetter and drew off to a three-length lead. Passing the eighth pole, it looked like she would finally get her first stakes win, but Blind Luck started to make things interesting. The late runner gobbled up ground on the outside, but this time Havre de Grace held on to win by a neck. For the third race in a row, the two were separated by a neck or less at the wire. The pair finished almost ten lengths clear of third-place finisher Awesome Maria… and it was clear that a bona fide rivalry had developed. Score: Blind Luck 2, Havre de Grace 1.


Fourth Meeting: Breeders Cup Ladies’ Classic, Churchill Downs, Nov. 5, 2010

The Breeders’ Cup loomed as a showdown to determine who would win the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly. If Blind Luck could finish ahead of Havre de Grace again, she would win the award in a runaway. If Havre de Grace was able to continue her momentum from the Cotillion and prevail, she would become the favorite to secure the coveted honor. The two drew the two outside posts in the 11-horse field, and Blind Luck was the 3-2 favorite while Havre de Grace was the third betting choice at 5.80-1. It was the first time Blind Luck had faced older horses in her career. For Havre de Grace, it was the first time she had done so in a stakes race.

To the surprise of few, Blind Luck dropped 11 ½ lengths off the lead after the first half-mile. Unusually, Havre de Grace was also far off the lead. She was 6 ½ lengths from the front after the first half-mile, the furthest back she had been at this point in her career.

As the field rounded the final turn, Unrivaled Belle, a 4-year-old filly who had beaten 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra earlier in 2010, made her move to the front after rating just off the lead. Turning for home, she led by a length, with Havre de Grace all-out but unable to get by. Blind Luck made her typical late move but she was no match for Unrivaled Belle, who won by 1 ¾ lengths. Blind Luck finished second, one length clear of Havre de Grace for third. This marked the only time in their rivalry that the fillies did not finish 1-2.

At year’s end, Blind Luck was the overwhelming winner of the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly. She earned 237 first-place votes out of 238 ballots cast. No Such Word, who defeated Havre de Grace at Delaware in June, received the other first-place vote. Both Blind Luck and Havre de Grace would return to the track as 4-year-olds in 2011, and the best was yet to come. Score: Blind Luck 3, Havre de Grace 1


Fifth Meeting: Azeri Stakes, Oaklawn Park, March 19, 2011

By the time Blind Luck and Havre de Grace squared off in Arkansas, everyone in racing acknowledged that the showdowns between these two were something special. The Azeri was Blind Luck’s third start of 2011. She had finished second in both the El Encino Stakes and the La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita in her first two outings, and she got a jockey change to future Hall of Famer Garrett Gomez for the Azeri.

Larry Jones leads Havre de Grace at Oaklawn Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Havre de Grace was making her seasonal debut in the Azeri, and it was also her first start for veteran trainer Larry Jones, who had conditioned many of Fox Hill’s best horses. After being ridden by Jeremy Rose in all but one of her prior starts, Havre de Grace also had a new rider – another eventual Hall of Famer, Ramon Dominguez. Before the race, Porter noted that his filly’s biggest problem as a 3-year-old was that she did not draw away from horses. Once she hit the front, Havre de Grace tended to let others come up to her. If she could start kicking clear and maintain her advantage, Porter believed, Havre de Grace would be in line for a big campaign.

Blind Luck was sent off as the 13-10 favorite, while Havre de Grace was the 8-5 second choice. Ramon Dominguez gave Havre de Grace a great trip in the Azeri, rating her three-wide off pacesetting Absinthe Minded. Blind Luck, meanwhile, was 7 ½ lengths off the lead after a half-mile. Rounding the far turn, Dominguez asked Havre de Grace for run, and she responded in kind, kicking clear to open up by 2 ½ lengths as the field passed the eighth pole. Meanwhile, Blind Luck was moving from the back of the pack under Gomez. Although she put in a game rally, Blind Luck was no match for Havre de Grace, who posted a commanding 3 ½-length win. It was by far the largest margin the two would ever be separated by in their careers.

For the first time, Havre de Grace had shown the ability to run away from top-class rivals and keep them at bay… and Blind Luck, although she ran well, had now lost five races in a row. Racing fans began to wonder if the tides of the rivalry were turning.

Havre de Grace stayed at Oaklawn for her next start and won the Apple Blossom Handicap by three-quarters of a length to secure her first Grade 1 victory. She followed that up with a 2 ¼-length win in the Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park at 1-5 odds.

Blind Luck resumed her winning ways in her next two starts. She avenged the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic with a win over Unrivaled Belle in the La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs, and then took the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park. The stage was set for another rematch between the two star fillies, and this one would prove to be the most thrilling of them all. Score: Blind Luck 3, Havre de Grace 2.


Sixth Meeting: Delaware Handicap, Delaware Park, July 16, 2011

One year and six days after their first meeting, the fillies returned to Delaware Park for their sixth and final meeting, this time in the Delaware Handicap.

Havre de Grace was the highweight of the field, carrying 124 pounds, and she was also the 7-10 post-time favorite. Blind Luck, with 122 pounds on her back, was the 11-10 second choice – the first time in the rivalry she had not been the favorite. Life At Ten had won the Delaware Handicap the year prior but was winless in three starts in 2011 and was the 6.90-1 third choice. Two local longshots rounded out the small field.

At the start, Ramon Dominguez rated Havre de Grace a few lengths back in third while Blind Luck settled farther back. Gomez kept his filly closer to the lead than usual, however, and she was only 3 ½ lengths behind after a half-mile. Through the far turn, Havre de Grace dispatched leader Life at Ten, but Gomez and Blind Luck were in striking range and quickly gathering momentum.

The duel was on, one more time, and while Blind Luck was all-out to go by, Havre de Grace was unrelenting to her inside under vigorous left-handed urging from Dominguez. Havre de Grace poked a head back in front as they passed the sixteenth pole, but Blind Luck immediately countered and came back at her. The two were inseparable coming down to the wire, and as they hit the finish, Blind Luck regained just enough momentum to win by a nose. The two star fillies were 18 ½ lengths clear of Life At Ten in third. Score: Blind Luck 4, Havre de Grace 2.


Aftermath

The Delaware Handicap proved to be the final meeting between Blind Luck and Havre de Grace. There was talk of a seventh square-off between the two at Saratoga, but those plans fizzled as Blind Luck was sent to California for a brief vacation.

Havre de Grace at Fasig-Tipton in 2012. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Havre de Grace did race at Saratoga, and in doing so she made history. She defeated male horses in the 2011 Woodward Stakes by 1 ¼ lengths, becoming the second filly to win the Woodward after Rachel Alexandra two years prior.

After an empathic 8 ¾-length score in the Beldame Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park, Havre de Grace once again tried males in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, seeking to become the second female to win the race after Zenyatta in 2009. She finished fourth at Churchill Downs, however, three lengths behind longshot winner Drosselmeyer. Despite the defeat, Havre de Grace was voted Horse of the Year, becoming the third filly or mare in a row to win the award following Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Zenyatta in 2010.

Blind Luck raced just one more time after her Delaware Handicap win. Sent off as the 13-10 favorite in the Lady’s Secret Stakes at Santa Anita, she never fired and was beaten 18 ¾ lengths. She was retired following that race and sold for $2.5 million as a broodmare prospect at the 2011 Keeneland November sale.

Havre de Grace raced one time in 2012, winning the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds by 4 ½ lengths at odds of 1-20. However, she suffered a ligament injury a few weeks later and was retired. Rick Porter announced that he planned to sell Havre de Grace, and she made headlines in the fall when Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm bought her for $10 million at the Fasig-Tipton November auction.

In technical terms, Blind Luck “won” this rivalry. She finished ahead of Havre de Grace four times, while finishing behind her twice. However, with a rivalry this great, there were no winners and losers. Six times these two fillies competed against each other, and in four of their six meetings they were separated by a neck or less at the wire. Blind Luck’s and Havre de Grace’s rivalry gave racing fans countless thrills, and established the fillies’ place as two of the best in modern history.

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