Every year there is always one division that stands above the rest in overall excellence, and in 2011, I have little doubt that America's top category of runners are the Older Females. Consistency is a mark of quality, and the best of this group run very well, and they do it every time. Three star four-year-old fillies have each stamped themselves as standouts through continued excellence on the racetrack. All three were proven topnotch horses before the calendar changed on January 1st, and they have shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, if anything, their respective stars are now shining brighter than ever. So much so, that all three can be considered Horse of the Year candidates. The three fillies I speak of course are Awesome Maria, Blind Luck, and Havre De Grace.
Awesome Maria is a grey four-year-old daughter of Maria's Mon who has won 7 of 12 lifetime starts. A little less than two years ago, I considered her to have as much potential as any juvenile filly in the land. She finished 2009 with two wins, and two seconds in only four starts. After running out of ground in her debut, she impressively won a Saratoga maiden, before scoring in Belmont's Grade 2 Matron in her 3rd start. Her season closed with a slightly unlucky fast closing 2nd in the Grade 1 Frizette to the classy Devil May Care. Unfortunately, much of Awesome Maria's three-year-old season was lost to physical setbacks. She did come back in September to win a grass stakes before running head first into the big two in the Cotillion. She proved no match for Havre De Grace and Blind Luck that day, but in all fairness it was only her second start in twelve months. That thrashing may have taken a toll, as she lost two more starts in her abbreviated 2010 campaign.
2011 has been different, given a brief freshening by conditioner Todd Pletcher, and the opportunity to work her way up before facing the best, Awesome Maria has proven to be the best female in Florida and New York. After sharp scores in the Sabin and Rampart at Gulfstream Park, she came back to New York to earn a hard fought victory against a loose-on-the-lead, Absinthe Minded in the Grade 2 Shuvee. In her latest start, Awesome Maria treated her competition with disdain, easily taking the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. Now 4 for 4 in 2011, all graded stakes, it is apparent that she is now, unlike last fall, at her best and truly ready to challenge the very best of her division. Look for Awesome Maria to try to make it 5 for 5 in the Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga in her next start.
Blind Luck is a chestnut four-year-old daughter of Pollard's Vision who has won 11 of 18 lifetime starts. She has proven to be one of the most durable and consistent fillies of the last decade. Blind Luck has rarely missed a big dance since her two-year-old season and simply refuses to run a bad race. She closed her juvenile season with an overpowering romp in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet prompting many to believe she deserved an Eclipse Award in 2009. She finished second in the voting that year, but came back with an even stronger season last year. The Jerry Hollendorfer trained miss won five races last year, and narrowly lost her four other starts. Each of her nine starts of the year came in either grade 1 or grade 2 stakes races. Blind Luck was rewarded at year's end with an easy victory in the voting for the Champion Three-year-old filly of 2010.
This year Blind Luck got off to a bit of a slow start, finishing second in each of her first three starts. In each of those losses, her late rally was not enough to run down the winner, twice to the now retired Always A Princess on the speed favoring Santa Anita main track, and once to her old rival, Havre De Grace. Since then she has come back with two dyanmite performances. At Churchill Downs she uncorked a furious late run to defeat defending Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner, Unrivaled Belle, in the La Troienne, and then she came back to score in the grade 1 Vanity over a determined Switch. It is clear in her last two races that Blind Luck is as good, or better than ever, and with the Breeders' Cup again coming to Churchill Downs this fall, you know this one can handle the track. At the time of this writing, Blind Luck is being strongly considered for a run against top males, Twirling Candy and First Dude in Saturday's prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup.
Havre De Grace is a bay four-year-old daughter of St. Liam who has won 6 of 11 lifetime starts. After getting off to a little slower beginning to her career than the other two fine fillies, she proved her immense class quickly last summer as she became the main rival to Blind Luck in the sophomore filly division. After giving the champ all she could handle in the Delaware Oaks and Alabama, Havre De Grace got the best of her rival in Parx Racing's rich Cotillion Stakes. She finished her breakout season of 2010 with a solid 3rd place finish in the Ladies' Classic to the older Unrivaled Belle, and Blind Luck. Her rival may have beaten three out of four last year, but she gave her a tussle each time, and as the much more lightly raced of the pair, the belief was that there was plenty of room for improvement.
That improvement has materialized in spades this year, as Havre De Grace has looked nothing short of sensational in her three starts for trainer Larry Jones. She started off the season with an easy score in the Azeri Stakes, and in the process scored an impressive measure of revenge over Blind Luck. Since then, she rolled late to score in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom over Switch, before absolutely toying with an overmatched group in the Obeah Stakes at Delaware Park. That Obeah victory appears to be the perfect prep for Havre De Grace as she readies to keep her undefeated 2011 record in tact for the history rich Delaware Handicap on July 16th.
So there you go … three outstanding four-year-old fillies on a collision course for Churchill Downs and the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic … or perhaps even a run for the even bigger game of the Classic itself. It should be an exciting summer whenever one of these three are running. Hopefully we will get to see a few more match-ups between two or even all three of them before November. I have my favorite, with great respect to Blind Luck and Awesome Maria, it's Havre De Grace. Who do you think will prove best by the end of the year?