07/14/2011 2:05PM

Delaware Handicap has an old-fashioned filly feud


Anyone who loves a good racetrack rumble needs to drop what he’s doing at around five o’clock Eastern time Saturday afternoon and get a load of those two throwing down at Delaware Park.

Old school is definitely in session.

Blind Luck and Havre de Grace are fillies who run and never hide, especially from each other. Fate popped them out of the same 2007 Thoroughbred crop, and now here they are, four years later, meeting for the sixth time under serious circumstances in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap.

Between them they have started 31 times, won 17, and never been worse than third. In terms of drama, a replay of the last time they met in the First State will do just fine, but don’t expect it. That day, in the 2010 Delaware Oaks, a relentless Blind Luck got the nod on Havre de Grace over a sloppy racetrack, much to the shock of Jerry Hollendorfer, Blind Luck’s trainer, who watched the race from the shelter of the clubhouse and still can’t believe his filly won.

“The good ones find a way to get the job done,” Hollendorfer said, shaking his head weeks later.

In their four meetings since then, California-based Blind Luck beat Midatlantic-based Havre de Grace a neck in the Alabama; Havre de Grace beat Blind Luck a neck in the Cotillion; Blind Luck beat Havre de Grace a length in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, in which when they were second and third to Unrivaled Belle; and Havre de Grace beat Blind Luck 3 1/2 lengths in the Azeri Stakes last March at Oaklawn Park. The Azeri was the first race for Havre de Grace with Larry Jones, who took over this year from Tony Dutrow.

“I wouldn’t be too sure that race at Oaklawn set up all that well for Jerry’s filly,” Jones said. “And we’re talking about a mile and a sixteenth, not a mile and a quarter.”

At 10 furlongs, the Delaware Handicap tests the best females of the breed in a manner the forefathers intended. But despite its rich history, won by 13 champions, there will be those in the crowd who hold their noses because the Delaware Handicap is a handicap, and Havre de Grace must carry 124 pounds, with Ramon Dominguez, to Blind Luck’s 122, including Garrett Gomez. Jones is philosophical.

“I’m guessing they really wanted Jerry to come here,” Jones said. “Or maybe they think our mare’s used to packing more weight hauling my big butt around there every morning.”

Wearing those famous white chaps he’s wrapped around the likes of Hard Spun, Proud Spell, and Eight Belles, Jones gallops most of his horses. He was asked how much he tacked.

“I don’t get on the scale with my tack, but I weigh 177 in the buff,” Jones said. “And that’s not a pretty sight.”

Havre de Grace is. Jones is rightfully smitten by the size and shape of his filly, who comes from the first and only crop of 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam. The stallion was euthanized after fracturing a hind leg in August 2006.

“She’s a great big mare, but she doesn’t look that huge,” Jones said. “You almost want to say she’s perfectly balanced. But until you get right up against her you don’t realize how big she is.”

Havre de Grace is out of a mare by Carson City, and her third dam, Toll Booth, is by Buckpasser, the 1966 Horse of the Year. As every schoolchild knows, Buckpasser not only won 15 straight races in 1966 and ’67, he also was out of Busanda, a daughter of Triple Crown winner War Admiral, who raced 23 times during her 4-year-old season of 1951. One of her victories came in the $50,000 Newcastle Handicap over 1 1/4 miles at Delaware Park, a 2 1/4-length score under 126 pounds. Four years later they renamed the race the Delaware Handicap.

Blind Luck’s got pretty good blood of her own. Something must explain this hard-twisted little daughter of Pollard’s Vision (Carson City again) beyond pure heart and determination. The best thing she might have going for her, in terms of deepest DNA, is a top and bottom cross to Chris Evert, the NYRA filly Triple Crown winner of 1974. Chris Evert is the fourth dam of Pollard’s Vision, as well as the dam of Chief’s Crown, the damsire of Blind Luck’s damsire, Best of Luck.

For those who don’t hold that much stock in the arcane study of pedigree, let’s just confirm that Blind Luck, a Grade 1 winner at 2, 3, and 4, is like no animal Jerry Hollendorfer has ever trained, and he’s going into the Hall of Fame next month. Truth be told, Blind Luck might be the one who pushed him through the door.

“You know, I’ve trained a lot of horses, and it’s remarkable that she can hold her edge for so long and still be very enthusiastic about everything she does,” Hollendorfer said.

Jones is braced for a donnybrook.

“I know Jerry’s mare must be doing good, because he did not have to send her all the way across the country,” Jones said. “And I wouldn’t turn my back on Life At Ten. She could jump up any time with a race like we’ve seen her run, and we’d all be in trouble.”

Still, there is no getting past the top two. The racing fan in Jones is looking forward to the race as much as the trainer.

“I hope the folks who show up here on Saturday appreciate the quality of these mares and the jockeys coming to ride them,” Jones said. “It’ll really be neat if I get the best of it, but I probably won’t think it’s too cotton-pickin’ neat if I get beat by a neck.”