DELAWARE HANDICAP| PURSE: $750,000 | GRADE: 2 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | 1 1/4 MILES
STANTON, Del. -- Summer reruns can be boring. Not when they involve the star fillies Blind Luck and Havre de Grace.
Exactly 371 days after they first met at Delaware Park in the Delaware Oaks, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, the two best older females in Thoroughbred racing, clashed again Saturday in the Grade 2, $750,000 Delaware Handicap. Just like last summer's Delaware Oaks, Blind Luck prevailed by a nose over her arch-rival Havre de Grace.
The sixth meeting between the Delaware Park-based Havre de Grace and Blind Luck, the queen of Southern California lived up to all the pre-race hype. In a head-to-head stretch battle, Blind Luck ($4.20), ridden by Garrett Gomez, barely reached the wire ahead of 3-5 favorite Havre de Grace.
In addition to the $450,000 winner's share of the purse, the 4-year-old Blind Luck earned a berth in this fall's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic as part of the Win and You're In program. The victory, the 12th in 21 starts for Blind Luck, pushed her career earnings to $3,279,520 and made amends for her 3 1/4-length loss to Havre de Grace when they last met in the Grade 3 Azeri at Oaklawn Park in March. Overall, Blind Luck has now finished in front of Havre de Grace four times.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who threatened not to bring Blind Luck back to Delaware Park for the Del Cap if his filly didn't receive a break in the weights, downplayed the significance of the two-pound concession he was granted by racing secretary Pat Pope.
"I'd rather have the two pounds than not," said Hollendorfer. "Havre de Grace is the number-one rated filly in the country and we were coming to her home track, so I would expect to get a couple of pounds."
Larry Jones, the trainer of Havre de Grace, had said before the race that the felt the two-pound spread was worth about 1 1/4 lengths going 1 1/4 miles. Afterwards, Jones was clearly upset the weights were not equal.
"Tell me two pounds does not make a difference," Jones said. "She won six Grade 1's versus our one and we are the highweight. That makes a lot of sense. I probably should not have run."
Blind Luck had the disadvantage of trying to close against a modest pace in a small field. Gomez said he wasn't sure she was going to be able to mount a sufficient rally to overtake Havre de Grace, who got first run when pacesetter Life At Ten was overtaken.
"The pace wasn't very quick," Gomez said. "If I was four or five lengths back, I thought I had a chance. But any more than that and we had no chance."
Even when he drew even with Havre de Grace, Gomez said he was unsure Blind Luck was going to get past her.
"We came up to her and she fought back," Gomez said. "I thought I might be in a little trouble. But with this filly, as soon as you pull her out and she pins her ears back, she accelerates in two jumps."
Havre de Grace blew past Life At Ten to open up a 1 1/2-length lead after a mile in 1:36.77. Jockey Ramon Dominguez said she put up a courageous fight against Blind Luck.
"My horse dragged me to the front, and turning for home she gave me all she had and really kept on digging," said Dominguez, who was the dominant rider at Delaware Park when he rode there from 2003-2008. "It was just a head bob and the other filly got up just in time."
The final time of 2:01.28 was the fastest running of the Del Cap since Unbridled Belle's 2:01.16 in 2006.
Life At Ten, the defending champion, lost for the fourth straight time, but still managed to get third, 18 1/2 lengths behind the top pair. Love's Blush edged Thundering Emilia by a neck for fourth in the field of five.
Hollendorfer said a six-week break would be ideal for Blind Luck, and after shipping back to California, she would be pointed to another 1 1/4-mile race, the Personal Ensign at Saratoga. The long-range goal remains the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Churchill Downs, where Blind Luck just might run into Havre de Grace again.
* Ramon Dominguez collected his second stakes win of the day when favored Alma d'Oro ($5) outfought In the Juice by a nose in the $100,000 R.R.M. Carpenter Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. The photo-finish win snapped a three-race losing streak for the 5-year-old Alma d'Oro, who is trained by Todd Pletcher. In winning for the seventh time in 21 starts, Alma d'Oro ran the distance in 1:43.14.
* Mr. Ryder ($5), stepping up to stakes company following back-to-back wins against high-priced optional claimers at Monmoth Park and Belmont Park, held off Bim Bam by a neck to win the $100,000 Sussex at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Ridden by Dominguez for trainer Christophe Clement, Mr. Ryder completed the distance on firm ground in 1:40.82 while winning for the fifth time in eight starts.
Bim Bam, coming off a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Manhattan, was 3 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher, Mikoshi.