Smile Politely

Who’s the boss?

Horse racing used to see rivalries of epic proportions. Before Thoroughbreds only raced a handful of times every year, or were regularly retired at age 3 to be ushered off to the breeding shed, it was not an anomaly to hear of champions going head-to-head time and time again. There was no Breeders’ Cup before 1984, and so titles had to be settled throughout the year, and on the track. This is the kind of race you simply don’t see anymore before the fall championships; we are, in fact, lucky if “rivals” actually get to meet in a race at all. But this sort of relic race will resurface with a flourish this Saturday, when division leader Havre de Grace is met by the resilient Blind Luck in the Grade II $750,000 Delaware Handicap.

Havre de GraceIn a year where division titles have been wavering like seesaws, this year’s group of older females is certainly the most impressive, and that is thanks to the two fillies headlining this race. The Delaware Handicap has shaped up to be something of a match race, even though there are a total of five fillies or mares in the field. Morning-line favorite Havre de Grace is undefeated this year in three starts, and has won each of these tests like some kind of undaunted superhorse. The Larry Jones trainee began her tour of domination at Oaklawn Park in the Grade III Azeri Stakes against Blind Luck. Though Blind Luck had her excuses in this race (this was Garrett Gomez’s first time riding her, and he gave her far too much to do by the time they came to the final turn), Havre de Grace was never really threatened by the runner-up and won by 3 ¼ lengths.

Blind Luck wins the La TroienneBlind Luck’s plans to go to the Apple Blossom were dashed after the Azeri, and the rivals went their separate ways for their next starts. Both went on to win their next two races; Havre de Grace would take the Apple Blossom and Obeah Stakes in dominating fashion, while Blind Luck finally found the winner’s circle again after taking down reigning champ Unrivaled Belle in the La Troienne before returning home to California to win the Grade I Vanity in a thriller. Garrett Gomez, now Blind Luck’s regular rider, seemed to finally figure out how to lay his late-closing filly closer to the back of the field, and she has responded with the same flash as in her 3-year-old championship campaign. After a troubled 5-race streak of finishing in second place, watching Blind Luck return to her best form is akin to witnessing an old pro rise from the ashes.

What a story it would be if Life at Ten found a way to win this grudge match. At one time the owner of a 6-race win streak that included the Ogden Phipps and the 2010 edition of the Delaware Handicap, this mare hasn’t returned to her winning form since the infamous incident in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, where she ran last after jockey John Velazquez said she wasn’t acting right in the post parade. Life at Ten has run twice since then, but has disappointed in both efforts. The Todd Pletcher trainee finished third in the Grade III Allaire DuPont Distaff at Pimlico, a race tailored for her to dominate if she retained a fraction of her class from the year before; she finished fourth behind the 1-2 finishers of that race again in this year’s Ogden Phipps, which was won by Awesome Maria. If 6-year-old Life at Ten does not run well in this race, which it’s safe to say will be no cakewalk, there will likely be louder calls for her retirement.

Thundering Emilia and Love’s Blush make up the rest of the field in the Del Cap. Thundering Emilia ran primarily in South America before finishing second in the John W. Rooney Stakes at Delaware Park. Love’s Blush has even less to show to her race record and would need to grow wings to best this competition.

The Grade II Delaware Handicap is a throwback to the glory days of hard-knocking rivals battling for gloating rights to the last breath of the wire. Blind Luck’s return to winning form makes this showdown all the more intriguing, as Havre de Grace looks all but invincible. This will be the pair’s sixth time in the ring together, and will set the stage for what’s to come in the Ladies’ Classic this fall. Will Life at Ten make a miraculous return to the winner’s circle, or will Havre de Grace stamp herself as the undisputed title holder? Thanks to the out-of-the-clouds running style of the always flying Blind Luck, the outcome will be decided this Saturday in a hailstorm of screams.

The Grade II Delaware Handicap will be broadcast live from Delaware Park on TVG and HRTV. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:18pm ET.

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