It seems to be an almost unanimous vote that Havre de Grace is the leading Horse of the Year candidate thus far in 2011, especially after easily defeating her toughest rival, Blind Luck, by more than three lengths in the Azeri Stakes (gr.3). The Azeri was the first start of the year for the Larry Jones trained filly and was followed up by dominant wins in the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr.1) and Obeah Stakes (gr.3) that featured a weak field. She will return to the scene of her first iconic meeting with Blind Luck in last year’s Delaware Oaks (gr.2) when she ships in for the July 16th Delaware Handicap (gr.2) where she could once again face her racetrack nemesis.
[Havre de Grace and Blind Luck rank #1 and #2 in Brian Zipse latest divisional rankings]
While Havre de Grace was going undefeated in three starts this year, Blind Luck had already run twice before facing her rival in the Azeri, both times running second and looking nothing like the Blind Luck of 2010. After the Azeri trainer Jerry Hollendorfer opted to give his star filly more time between races and skip the Apple Blossom Handicap in favor of the La Troienne Stakes (gr.2) and a short rest. It worked wonders and the Champion regained her winning form with a spectacular stretch running rally from last. After a bad stumble at the break she nailed 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic victor Unrivalled Belle by a half length at the wire. Just over one month later Blind Luck returned for another last-to-first win, this time in the Vanity Handicap (gr.1) at Hollywood Park on Hollendorfer’s birthday no less, finishing 1 ½ lengths ahead of Switch. Hollendorfer mentioned the Delaware Handicap on July 16th as the next possible start for his charge, where she would once again face Havre de Grace, but he also mentioned the Clement L Hirsch (gr.1) and Personal Ensign (gr.1) Stakes at Del Mar and Saratoga respectively. That was after the Vanity Handicap, now, less than three weeks later, Hollendorfer has given racing fans even more to think about. After Blind Luck worked five furlongs in 1:01 on Thursday Hollendorfer announced he was nominating the Pollard’s Vision filly to the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr.1) on July 9th. If she was to run in the 1 ¼ mile event she could face a very deep field of older males that includes First Dude, Twirling Candy, Game On Dude and 2010 winner Awesome Gem. A win over the males in the Gold Cup would go a long way towards winning her the divisional championship for Blind Luck again, which I’m sure Hollendorfer has in his mind.
With all the talk surrounding Havre de Grace, Blind Luck, and Awesome Maria in the older female division, it seems few have taken the time to think how easy it would be for one of the supporting players could throw a wrench into the best laid plans, considering how strong the division is.
Switch started her year with a bang, capturing the Grade 1 Santa Monica Stakes for her second consecutive Grade 1 after taking the La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita in December. After the Santa Monica it seemed she inherited Blind Luck’s streak of second place finishes, racking up three straight runner-up efforts since then. She missed by only a head to Miss Match in the Santa Margarita (gr.1) before finishing less than two lengths behind Havre de Grace in the Apple Blossom and 1 ½ lengths behind Blind Luck in the Vanity. In 15 lifetime starts the Quite American filly has finished first or second 11 times, third twice, and only finished off the board twice. One of these times she’s going to put it all back together and get in the winner’s circle, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened sooner rather than later.
St. Trinians hasn’t won a race since taking the Santa Maria Handicap (gr.2) at Santa Anita on February 13th last year, but she finished first in the Milady Handicap (gr.2) on May 21st
before getting disqualified to fourth. She finished fourth behind Blind Luck in the Vanity for her last start giving her three consecutive fourth place finishes on the charts but I think there is still a lot of potential for her to come back with some good performances this year. Together St. Trinians and Switch accounted for two of the slimmest wins of Zenyatta’s career.
Needless to say it’s a great crop of older fillies and mares running in 2011 and it appears with the older male division still in a confused state of leadership that the females could have an advantage in the race for Horse of the Year. It’s still too early to tell, championships are almost always won in the last half of the season, but fun to speculate nonetheless.