What is the measure of a man? For as long as pen and parchment have existed, and man first discovered the power and influence of words, there has been a desire to record, and question, the accomplishments of others. From Julius Caesar, to Leonardo da Vinci, Queen Victoria, and Martin Luther King, great figureheads in history have been put through countless tests to measure their worth in a million different areas of proficiency. Perhaps the question we need to be asking coming into Saturday’s Woodward Stakes is this: What is the measure of a filly?
Havre de Grace has been under constant and ever-increasing scrutiny, since she gave Champion Blind Luck one of the most testing races of her career in the Delaware Oaks (gr.2) on July 10th last year. The two fillies have since established one of the greatest rivalries thoroughbred horse racing have ever seen. Five times Havre de Grace and Blind Luck have faced each other since last July, and never has another horse finished between them. Havre de Grace began the year with an impressive score by more than three lengths over her nemesis in the Azeri Stakes (gr.3). She humbled the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr.1) field, minus Blind Luck, in her next start before capturing the Obeah Stakes (gr.3) with breathtaking ease. She locked in mortal combat the entire length of the Delaware Park stretch in her next start, proving tough-as-nails once again while finishing second to Blind Luck, defeated by a nose for the win in the Delaware Handicap (gr.2).
Now, six weeks later, Havre de Grace will be attempting something her decorated rival has yet to attempt: facing some of the nation’s best older males. This year that statement might not carry as much weight as it normally would, with such a depleted pool of talent in the older male division, but facing males should never be underrated or labeled an easy task. Only one filly has managed to win the prestigious Grade 1 race at Saratoga, the now epic 2009 edition, where Rachel Alexandra led at almost every call to win by an exhilarating head.
If any filly possesses the capability of winning the Woodward Stakes this year, it’s probably Havre de Grace. She has already competed successfully at the 1 1/8 mile distance when winning the June 11th Obeah Stakes and has won three 1 1/16 mile races in addition to being less than a combined length away from winning two 1 ¼ mile races. Another factor in the 4-year-old Saint Liam filly’s favor is her lack of Blind Luck caliber competition. In this writer’s humble opinion, not one of the capable males lining up against Havre de Grace has achieved her level of talent.
It has been just over one year since the Larry Jones trained filly has visited Saratoga. Patrons at the Spa last saw Havre de Grace dueling it out with none other than Blind Luck in the Alabama Stakes (gr.1). She finished second by a neck that day, but showed wonderful ability over the dirt strip. When it comes to fitness Larry Jones left no chances with his star pupil. Since her runner-up effort in the Delaware Handicap Havre de Grace has turned in three exceptional works, the best of which may have been her blazing :59.60 five furlong breeze on August 17th. That work was preceded by a 1:00.00 flat five furlong move and, followed up with a strong 1:13.20 six furlong move. Because of heavy rains brought about by hurricane Irene, trainer Larry Jones announced he would gallop Havre de Grace up til the Woodward in the days preceding the race, but that all changed once conditions became good enough on Tuesday morning. Jones sent Havre de Grace for a quick :35.60 three furlong blowout Tuesday in what will be her final major work before tackling the Woodward field.
In the end this becomes a question of class and talent. When it comes down to it, I believe Havre de Grace has a class edge in the Woodward, and is also the most talented entrant.