07/17/2011 12:29PM

The Blind Luck - Havre de Grace Rivalry


It was yet another close one.

The nose that separated Blind Luck and Havre de Grace at the end of Saturday’s Delaware Handicap was the fourth time in the six meetings between these two top-class performers that the winning margin was so small that numbers were not used to quantify it, not even traditional fractions. These two seem to have quite the rivalry going. Or do they?

Many agree that the best rivalry in the modern game was the one between Affirmed and Alydar. At one time, it really was a great, great rivalry. But the dirty truth is, by the time Affirmed finished ahead of Alydar for a third straight time at 3 (and for a seventh time from nine total meetings up to that point) to sweep the 1978 Triple Crown, it had become apparent to just about everyone except the most avid Alydar fans that the only way Alydar was ever again going to beat Affirmed was with help of some sort.

And the funny thing is, that’s exactly what happened when Affirmed and Alydar met for what turned out to be the last time a couple of months later in the Travers. Going into the far turn, Affirmed unnecessarily came over and interfered with the rail-running Alydar, and then Affirmed went on to best Alydar by nearly two lengths. The stewards stepped in, Affirmed was disqualified and placed second, and Alydar was awarded the win even though everyone knew that they could have gone around the Saratoga main track 15 more times that day, and Alydar was never going to get past Affirmed.

I’m not suggesting that everyone is wrong when they talk about Affirmed and Alydar being the best rivalry in modern racing. But I never totally understood (beyond the obvious historical implications of that amazing 1978 Belmont Stakes) how the Affirmed-Alydar took on the legendary status it did when one half of the equation was a demonstrably better race horse than the other. And I’m not saying that the Blind Luck and Havre de Grace rivalry has even remotely approached the level of Affirmed-Alydar. But there is something reminiscent of Affirmed-Alydar here, at least to me. While the Delaware Handicap result will only fuel the Blind Luck-Havre de Grace rivalry, I’m seeing evidence that one of these fillies just might be plain better than the other, even if only narrowly so.

I know people are talking about how terrible it was that Havre de Grace had to concede two pounds to Blind Luck in the Del Cap, and are pointing to that as the determining factor in the outcome. I suppose a two pound weight spread going 1 1/4 miles could be meaningful. But I have to admit I have my doubts as to how much two pounds might really impact the performance of a 1,000 to 1,200 pound race horse no matter what the distance, particularly when there are so many other far more important factors to consider.

In the case of Saturday’s Del Cap, Blind Luck had to ship all the way across the country from Hollywood Park, while Havre de Grace merely had to walk over from the Delaware Park stall she has occupied for months. And Blind Luck had the difficult task of having to close into a pace that really wasn’t all that fast, while Havre de Grace, with her positional speed, had the far better trip stalking the pace from closer range, and getting first run. These factors had much more impact on the running of this Del Cap than a mere two pound weight spread. And yet, Blind Luck overcame them, and has now finished in front of Havre de Grace in four of their six meetings.

But if you’re a Havre de Grace fan, there is one significant cause for optimism. Two of Blind Luck’s victories over Havre de Grace – Saturday’s Del Cap and last summer’s Alabama – came at the distance of 1 1/4 miles. In all likelihood, the race that will ultimately decide this rivalry (not to mention a divisional championship) will be the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic this fall at Churchill Downs. The Ladies’ Classic is run at nine furlongs, a distance that is probably much better than 10 furlongs for Havre de Grace. In fact, Havre de Grace never again has to go 1 1/4 miles if her connections don’t want her to. Then again, Blind Luck finished second, ahead of Havre de Grace, in last year’s Ladies’ Classic, and also beat Havre de Grace last year in the 1 1/16-mile Delaware Oaks, so . . .