07/16/2011 9:47AM

Showdown at Delaware, Virginia Derby

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BLIND LUCK and HAVRE DE GRACE, the two top older fillies in the country, will renew hostilities this afternoon in the $750,000, Grade 2 Delaware Handicap. 

Their rivalry began at Delaware last year with the classy Blind Luck nosing out Havre de Grace in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.  Blind Luck made it 2-2 over Havre de Grace with a desperate neck victory in the Grade 1 Alabama at hallowed Saratoga, but Havre de Grace, in receipt of 10 lbs, necked out her eternal rival in the Grade 2 Cotillion at Parx Racing.  The two warriors ended the 2010 racing season in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic at Churchill Downs.  Although neither won the race, Blind Luck clinched the 3-year-old filly title by finishing second, a length in front of a gallant Havre de Grace. 

Havre de Grace switched barns over the winter and the Saint Liam filly is a perfect 3-3 in 2011 under Larry Jones.  Under equal weights in the Grade 3 Azeri, Havre de Grace handled champion Blind Luck by 3 1/4 lengths. 

Since that race, the two have gone their separate ways with Havre de Grace victorious in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn and the Grade 3 Obeah at Delaware, and Blind Luck a winner in the Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill and the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood. 

Going into the Delaware Handicap, the scorecard reads:

BLIND LUCK - 3
HAVRE DE GRACE - 2

Blind Luck is a remarkable filly.  She hasn't finished off the board in any of her 20 races and she has not ducked a challenge.  She's won at distances ranging from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles.  She's won on dirt, polytrack, Pro-Ride, and cushion track.  She's won in Florida, California, Arkansas, Kentucky and New York.  She is, simply, a star.  But, as usual, she will have her hooves full with Havre de Grace today.  Havre de Grace's tactical speed gives her an advantage over Blind Luck, a one-run closer, so it is a testament to Blind Luck's amazing ability that the champion has the edge over Havre de Grace after five races.
Still, Havre de Grace should get the jump on Blind Luck this afternoon and I believe that will give the Jones filly the nod at the wire.  As mentioned, she's come back firing at four and her most recent win in the Obeah was nothing more than a paid workout.  She blazed five furlongs in 57 4/5 in her final morning tune-up and seems razor sharp. 
Expect the overmatched THUNDERING EMILIA and the defending Delaware 'Cap champion, the off-form LIFE AT TEN, to attend the early pace with Havre de Grace tracking them intently.  Blind Luck, under Garrett Gomez, figures to settle comfortably at the back of the five-horse field. 
The key to this race, interestingly enough, may be the star-crossed Life At Ten.  If she folds tamely when Havre de Grace ramps up on the final turn, Blind Luck may have a ton of work to do.  But, if Life At Ten makes Havre de Grace work a bit at that crucial point in the race, Blind Luck may find her foe somewhat leg-weary come the crucial tenth furlong. 
It's a fascinating race between two excellent horses.  If you're a fan of either one, or hopefully both, you really can't lose. 
Selections:  HAVRE DE GRACE, BLIND LUCK, LIFE AT TEN

***

The Virginia Derby usually draws a strong field and the 2011 renewal is no exception.  Most of the leading 3-year-old turf performers are here including BANNED, the winner of the Grade 2 American Turf and Grade 3 Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs.  Banned is tough, but I have been very impressed lately with STREET GAME, a New York-bred son of Street Cry that has turned his form around since trainer Phil Serpe added blinkers to the arsenal. 
Last time out, in the Grade 3 Hill Prince Stakes at one mile, Street Game stepped to the front, backed down the fractions, opened up again on the turn, and was never threatened late despite his rider blowing the stick in midstretch.  The additional two furlongs is somewhat of a concern, but there doesn't appear to be much pace in this year's Virginia Derby and jockey Edgar Prado may have Street Game on, or near, moderate fractions.
A few years ago, Serpe and Prado shipped I Lost My Choo down to Colonial for a win in the Virginia Oaks.  Perhaps lightning will strike twice with Street Game.
Selections:  STREET GAME, KING CONGIE, THIRTYFIRSTSTREET

***

Sunday's Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park looks like a chalky affair, but the recent exploits of race favorite ACCLAMATION deserve mention.  A killer at Hollywood Park (8-5-0-2 record), Acclamation has won his last two races impressively.  Two back, he dominated FALCON ROCK and company en route to a seven-length win in the Grade 2 Jim Murray Handicap.  Last time out, he went gate-to-wire in taking his second consecutive Charles Whittingham Memorial (Grade 1).  It looks like he'll face some other speed in the Sunset, but Acclamation seems just as comfortable from slightly off the pace and the 12-furlong distance is right up his alley.
Selections:  ACCLAMATION, CELTIC NEW YEAR, ATTICUS JACK

***

Some quick-and-dirty selections:

Greenwood Cup:  AFLEET AGAIN, A. U. MINER, PONZI SCHEME
Jaipur:  GANTRY, YIELD BOGEY, RIGHT ONE
American Oaks:  NEREID, BIZZY CAROLINE, STAR BILLING
Virginia Oaks:  SUMMER SAVORY, DYNAMIC HOLIDAY, SMART STING
A Gleam:  AMERICAN STORY, ULTRA BLEND, WASHINGTON BRIDGE
Hollywood Juvenile:  MAJESTIC CITY, NIGHT TIDE, BRIGAND

DRF.COM Handicapper Mike Beer and I break down these races and many, many more in our weekend preview videos.  You can access them by clicking on the following link, scrolling down to the second video player, and then clicking on the race name on the right-hand side of the video player.

http://www.drf.com/news/weekend-stakes-preview-videos

Enjoy the weekend.