07/21/2011 4:00PM

Blind Luck at the head of her class for now


The light was beginning to fade on Del Mar’s opening day as “America’s No. 1 Thoroughbred” lurked at the back of her stall, thinking strange horse thoughts and wondering what to do next.

The barn was quiet. The view had not changed, and Blind Luck had grown weary of torturing her hay net. She had done nothing but walked since getting back from Delaware Park, where her razor-thin win over Havre de Grace in the Delaware Handicap last Saturday continued to sending dizzying waves of excitement through the sport. But that was then. What now? More hay?

Then Jerry Hollendorfer walked up to her stall with a handful of carrots. Ears twitching, Blind Luck and her skinny blaze presented themselves at the webbing.

“She doesn’t want you coming around unless you bring something,” Hollendorfer said.

This would be known as tribute, in her case for a conquering hero who has been able to reproduce her form in seven cross-country trips since winning the 2010 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. Her secret?

“She’ll go into a new place, be fidgety for an hour or two and then settle in,” Hollendorfer said. “Like the great athletes, they just don’t mind the travel, though this wasn’t as good a trip as some of them. On the day before the race I thought the heat might be starting to get to her a little. In that case all you can really do is keep them hydrated. Then the temperature broke a bit and she was okay.

“She’s been back and forth now,” the trainer added, “and you can see she’s bright, not dull. She’ll get a few days to recuperate and then we’ll start training her again.”

And training, and training, and training. Since her purchase as a 2-year-old in the summer of 2009 by Hollendorfer and his partners -- Mark Dedominico, John Carver and Peter Abruzzo – Blind Luck has never left the racetrack. The Delaware Handicap was her 21st start and 21st time finishing first, second, or third. Her next start could be in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 28.

In the meantime, it’s back to work out West for the Hollendorfer barn. Before the boss heads off to Saratoga Springs to be inducted in the Hall of Fame ceremonies of Aug. 12, he’s got a couple weekends worth of business at Del Mar and a slew of runners at the Northern California fairs. The fun could start on Saturday when he runs two of Blind Luck’s sisters-in-arms in the Osunitas Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

Lilly Fa Pootz, the announcer’s nightmare, is winless this year in six starts, but it hasn’t been for lack of trying. A daughter of champion Gilded Time, she hit the board in the Santa Ana and Wilshire Handicaps before tossing in a bad one last out in the Redondo Beach on the Hollywood turf.

“There’s a mare who could have used a little more luck in a couple of those races,” Hollendorfer said. “But she’s always trying hard.”

Lilly Fa Pootz saves some of her best efforts for the Del Mar grass. Last summer she was third, beaten less than a length, in the Palomar Handicap and lost the meet’s premier race for the division, the John C, Mabee, by a nose to Wasted Tears.

City to City is also a horse for the Del Mar course. She won the Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita early last year and was not embarrassed when she ran fifth in a deep 2010 version of the American Oaks. But her finest hour may have come in the 2010 San Clemente Stakes on the Del Mar grass when she was second by just three-quarters of a length to Evening Jewel – the same Evening Jewel who lost the Kentucky Oaks by a nose to Blind Luck.

The San Clemente was City to City’s last race of the season.

“She had a chip taken out of her ankle,” Hollendorfer said. “and she’s made quite a remarkable recovery. There’s no soreness at all. Coming back we got a sprint race into her up north, and then she ran a big race at Pleasanton and was unlucky to lose.”

Running on dirt in the Alameda County Handicap, City to City was packed wide turning for home and lost by a neck. It had the look of a solid prep.

It helps that Hollendorfer cut his teeth running for small purses in Northern California circuit before he began winning big races coast-to-coast, otherwise it might bother him that, at just $75,000, the Osunitas offers exactly one-tenth of what was on the line in the Delaware Handicap.

“My job is to win races,” the trainer said. “I can’t do much about the purses.”

That’s a good attitude, just as it’s wise not to take Blind Luck’s designation as the “top-rated” horse in America too far. The process to which such a rating refers is the weekly poll taken by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s media wing, comprised of a grand total of 19 people. At least, that’s how many voted this week, when 15 of them put Blind Luck at the head of the list and only one tabbed Havre de Grace.

As a snapshot of current sentiment, the poll is harmless, until, that is, its results become broadly circulated as something to be taken seriously. Based upon their one-each record as 4-year-olds, there is a long way to go before we find out which filly will enter the history books as better than the other, if we find out at all. Like the guy said when asked which of two gunfighters was faster: “I’d hate to have to live on the difference.”