The Woodward: Déjà Vu All Over Again
“Obviously, we think we have a chance to be Horse of the Year,” Rick Porter, owner of Havre de Grace, told Bloodhorse. “And after we got beat a nose in the Del 'Cap, we thought we had to do something aggressive, either run against Blind Luck again in the Personal Ensign [or] take the boys on. We had to do something to get everybody's attention, hopefully.”
OK... so far, so good. Not only do I agree with Porter that his magnificent filly would be a worthy contender for Horse of the Year honors should she win this weekend, I applaud his competitive spirit in taking the bull by the horns and challenging the boys.
Apparently, however, praising the connections of a horse — or lauding the steed itself — is not enough these days. To be a “real” racing fan/pundit, one must also trash any human or equine rivals of that horse (a legacy of the oftentimes ugly Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta debate, I’m afraid).
Enter Blind Luck and her trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Shortly after Porter announced his bold vision for Havre de Grace, word filtered down that her primary competitor in the older filly and mare division, Blind Luck, would bypass a similar test in the Pacific Classic… and the fiery Facebook and forum posts began in earnest.
Some folks wondered how, with three losses on her record, Blind Luck could possibly be considered for Horse of the Year honors in the first place. Others expressed amazement that, given her lone Grade I victory this year, Hollendorfer’s filly was even being mentioned in the same breath as Havre de Grace, who — score one for irony — also has a single Grade I tally on her 2011 resume (although, obviously, that could change soon).
And, naturally, the accusations that Hollendorfer was “ducking” Porter’s stable star flew like tall tales at a fishing expo.
First of all, I would like to offer my (in)sincerest thanks to the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association for creating the wonderful system of assessing the quality of stakes races we use today.
In addition to allowing even casual horseplayers and racing fans to definitively determine which horses are the best without having to consider any other factors, these assessments, i.e. grades, have made it a piece of cake to decide which animals deserve to be honored at the end of the year.
Unless a particular horse garnered the bulk of its graded earnings over synthetic surfaces in Southern California — everybody knows such races are no better than dime claimers in the East — one can use Grade I victories as sort of a champion thoroughbred dowsing rod.
If Horse A has three G1 victories and Horse B has two G1 scores, Horse A gets the Eclipse — never mind that it raced almost exclusively against three-year-old fillies, while the latter faced open company.
Now, if Horse A was based in California…
Of course, I already addressed the folly of focusing on losses, rather than wins, in another column I did entitled “When Failure Is Not an Option” (ironically, centered on the same two horses: Blind Luck and Havre de Grace), so let’s tackle this “ducking” business.
Look, I understand that, as fans of the Sport of Kings, we want to see the best battle the best, but that doesn’t mean we need to witness the same horses face each other over and over again — that’s called harness racing (kidding, kidding). Seriously, though, this “ducking” accusation reminds me of playing rock-paper-scissors, in which two-out-of-three becomes three-out-of-four becomes four-out-of-five… when does it end?
Since turning three, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace have competed against each other six times — that’s twice more than Affirmed and Alydar met as older horses (in 1978-79), so enough with the “ducking” nonsense.
If and when Havre de Grace and Blind Luck clash on the racetrack again, let’s just cherish the moment and enjoy two top fillies doing what they love to do. Afterwards, we can grouse about the weights, complain about the track condition, moan about a jockey’s ride and accuse each horse’s connections of foul intentions.
In the meantime, I think I’ll take a nap.
2011 Woodward Analysis
1-ICE BOX (12/1 on the morning line)
The horse that everybody thought should have won the Kentucky Derby in 2010 is 0-for-5 since that race and has hit the board once — in an optional claiming affair on July 29. On the positive side, that was his first start as a four-year-old and it earned him a 93 Brisnet speed figure (BSF) and a -9 late speed ration (LSR).
Fair Odds: 15-1
2-MISSION IMPAZIBLE (10/1)
This guy looked great in the Stephen Foster (101 BSF, -1 LSR), but took the “Pletcher Plunge” in the Whitney over the local oval, where he finished a distant sixth behind Tizway. On his best, he’s a threat.
Fair Odds: 8-1
3-GIANT OAK (8/1)
I’ve always thought this Chris Block trainee has talent, but he’s had a hard time finding the winner’s circle in his career. Minus a win by DQ in 2010, he’s just 1-for-15 over the past two years; however, that win was the Grade I Donn. Still, I think a minor award is his ceiling on Saturday.
Fair Odds: 12-1
Although he’s not a strong finisher, since the Woodward has been contested at Saratoga, the name of the game has been early speed (see below) — and, on that count, Rule fits beautifully in Saturday’s field. What’s more, the son of Roman Ruler was as game as they get in a flag fall-to-finish slugfest with Sangaree in the ungraded Birdstone last time and rates a big shot here.
Fair Odds: 5-1
Darley-bred son of Pulpit has always hinted at superior talent, but hasn’t lived up to his potential… yet. That said, he is entering the Woodward in fine form and did run decently in this same event last year. I think he’s a live longshot.
Fair Odds: 8-1
6-HAVRE DE GRACE (8/5)
Simply put, Havre de Grace is the fastest horse in the race, having met or exceeded Saturday’s Brisnet par (111) three times. She also has the best overall LSRs. Only two things give me pause: 1) She could be further off the pace than usual; and 2) Given her reputation and the “battle of the sexes” element she brings, her price could be a horrible underlay.
Fair Odds: 2-1
7-FLAT OUT (5/2)
Perhaps I’m trying to be too clever here, but I think Flat Out, rather than Havre de Grace, is the one to avoid on Saturday. Yeah, I know he’s fast — his effort in the Suburban on July 2 was absolutely spectacular (111 BSF, -2 LSR while wide throughout) — but his run last time in the Whitney (104 BSF, -8 LSR) is more indicative of his ability, I believe. And if one accepts that to be true, the 5-2 morning line odds on the son of Flatter are simply too low.
Fair Odds: 9-2
8-MAMBO MEISTER (10/1)
I love this gelding’s last workout (three furlongs in 35-1/5 seconds, breezing), because if trainer Philip Gleaves and jockey Fernando Jara are smart, they’ll gun this guy out of the gate and play “catch-me-if-you-can.” Despite the fact that Calder shippers were 1-for-20 at the Spa last year, Mambo Meister has the kind of early zip to be a huge threat this weekend. The question is will he use it?
Fair Odds: 6-1
SUGGESTED PLAYS: WIN/SHOW on 4 at odds of 5-1 or greater and/or WIN/SHOW on 8 at odds of 6-1 or greater.