Race of the Week 2017
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Around the Oval with Melaina Phipps

Racing's Rivalries: Delaware Handicap the Latest in a Long Line

Blind Luck and Harve De Grace in the Delaware Oaks
I first saw Blind Luck run in the Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga last year. Though the trainers would deny it, it was speculated to be a two-horse race between Blind Luck and the late Malibu Moon filly, Devil May Care. Rather, it would prove to establish the rivalry between July 2010’s Delaware Oaks (G2) winner Blind Luck and the filly that she nosed out for that win, Havre de Grace. They have met three times since, twice with Havre de Grace besting Blind Luck—in 2010 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes (G2) at Parx Racing and the 2011 Azeri Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn. Unrivalled Belle made it to the wire first in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1), but Blind Luck and Have de Grace still battled each other, finishing second and third, respectively, in that race. Now we anxiously await Saturday’s Delaware Handicap (G2) to see how these fillies will make it over the 1 ¼ mile course. Will this race break the tie in their rivalry? Well, that, I couldn’t possibly predict.

What I will comment on though, is the tradition of rivalry in this sport of kings. Inherently, every race is a rivalry—among the horses, the owners, the trainers, the breeders. That’s kind of the point—to determine the best in each division. Sometimes though, intimate rivalries develop between horses, such as the one we are witnessing now between Blind Luck and Havre de Grace. A little extra rivalry is never a bad thing, it simply adds a bit more excitement to the game. Over the course of just this century there have been notable rivalries between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, Gallorette and Stymie, Jaipur and Ridan, Kelso and Gun Bow, Affirmed and Alydar, Alysheba and Bet Twice, Personal Ensign and Winning Colors, Easy Goer and Sunday Silence,  Silver Charm and Free House, Curlin and Street Sense, and Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.  That’s by no means not comprehensive list, just some of the highlights! So let’s take a quick look at some of these historic rivalries that so captured racing fans’ attentions over the years.

The 1930s: Seabiscuit and War Admiral

In 1937 Seabiscuit had won 11 of 15 races and was the leading money winner in the United States. In 1937, War Admiral had won the Triple Crown and captured the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. While both horses had Man O’ War bloodlines, they could not have been more different. Seabiscuit was a horse no one could handle and for a while, no one wanted to. War Admiral was the epitome of the champion racehorse. While his race record and earnings were impressive, Seabiscuit’s racing out West was considered not up to snuff in the East Coast circles where War Admiral left his mark. The racing community and fans called for a match race between the two to determine once and for all who the greater champion was. After several dates had been set and then cancelled, the two horses finally met on November 1, 1938 at Pimlico Race Course. They ran a 1 3/16 mile race. As I’m sure the vast majority of you are well aware, it was Seabiscuit who made it to the wire first. I love a good underdog story as much as the next person (and yes, the cinematic version did make me cry) but there was no doubt that both these horses were champions. This win, along with his remarkable record would earn Seabiscuit the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year in 1938.

The 1940s: Gallorette and Stymie
The champion filly Gallorette must truly have been something to behold. With a pedigree of racing royalty and looks to match, she wasted no time breaking her maiden; in her two-year-old year she finished third in her debut and then won her next two starts. She made it pretty obvious from the get-go that she was born to race. Stymie, on the other hand, was what one might call a late bloomer. Though he had some good bloodlines to speak of, he was ordinary looking and not very impressive. Claimed in his third race for a mere $1,500, Stymie would not see the winner’s circle until his 14th try around the oval. He wouldn’t win his first stakes race, the Grey Lag Handicap, until he was four, but it would turn out to be the first of a total of twenty-five stakes he would win in his career. When these two met on the track, the competition would pit male against female, beauty against beast (so to speak), and older against younger (Stymie was foaled in 1941, Gallorette in 1942). They met first in 1946, when as a four-year-old Gallorette would beat him in the Brooklyn Handicap. This would be two of three occasions that year in which the filly would triumph over male company, the other occasions being the Metropolitan Handicap and the Bayshore Handicap. But Stymie would meet her again later that year in the Edgemere Handicap and beat her to the wire. Nineteen-forty-seven would bring them together again, and while Gallorette won the Queens County Handicap over rival Stymie, he would defeat the filly in future meetings later that year. Regardless of the record of their rivalry, both horses were extraordinary. Gallorette broke the record for all-time earnings for a filly with her winnings of $445,535 and Stymie retired as the richest racehorse in America, with earnings of $918,485.

The 1970s: Affirmed and Alydar

No rivalry in horse racing history is probably better known than that between Affirmed and Alydar. In fact, so memorable is their competition, that it it’s rare to hear one mentioned without reference to the other. It is likely that there is little I could add to the discussion that avid race fans such as you, readers, don’t already know. Over the course of their racing careers the two would meet ten times.Most notably, they met in all three races of the Triple Crown, of which Affirmed would become the eleventh winner (and to date, the last). Alydar became the first horse to ever finish second in all three Triple Crown races. When their rivalry was put to rest, with the 1978 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, the final tally was Affirmed 7, Alydar 3.

Stay tuned for more historic rivalries to come!


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Older Comments about Racing's Rivalries: Delaware Handicap the Latest in a Long Line...

I certainly hope the continuation of this article touches on the terrific rivalry waged between Free House and Silver Charm ;-)
Look forward to part 2! How about Secretariat and Sham? Didn't they just make a successful movie featuring that rivalry?
  • MBPhipps · There are so many good rivalry stories I could go have many more parts to this! Secretariat and Sham is a great one for certain. · 2327 days ago
Alysheba and Bet Twice? Sunday Silence and Easy Goer? Wow-you could go on all day!
Good call Melaina! It's nice to see a rivalry again! I know the media was trying with AK and Shackelford, but with the injuries and all...

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Meet Melaina Phipps

I came to horseracing only about a decade ago. (And no, I am no relation to the celebrated racing family of the same name.) My equine interests prior to that began, as they do for most young girls, with riding lessons and horse shows, and ended up with me playing polo while a graduate student at UVA and thereafter. It was entirely unexpected that I should spend time on the backstretch at Saratoga in the summer and on the rail at Payson Park in Florida in the winter watching some of the best trainers and horses in the country work. But that’s where I found myself and where my interest in this wild ride of an industry took shape. I don’t exercise racehorses; I don’t work with a trainer.  I watch, I listen, I ask a lot of questions, and I learn.  I enjoy supporting equine charities. Sometimes I bet a little.

I leave the handicapping and serious race talk and examination to those more knowledgeable than I. What I’d like to share through Around the Oval are some of the myriad observations, stories, histories, events, charities, places, and personalities that make up the variegated landscape of the Thoroughbred racing industry. If you find any—or all—of it interesting, please leave comments. Have any particular interests you’d like to read about? Send word—suggestions are more than welcome! 

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