07/12/2012 12:01PM

Delaware Park: Grace Hall back on home track for Delaware Oaks

Barbara D. Livingston
Grace Hall is one of three Tony Dutrow-trained runners in Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Delaware Oaks.

Trainer Tony Dutrow has won 21 stakes at Delaware Park over the past 19 years, including four that were worth $100,000 or more. He owns four wins in the local prep for the Delaware Oaks, but the top prize in the track’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies has always eluded him.

Two years ago, it looked like Dutrow would finally get a Delaware Oaks victory when Havre de Grace briefly stuck her head in front in deep stretch, only to see the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained California shipper Blind Luck nip her by a nose in what was the first of six head-to-head battles between the two female stars.

Dutrow and Hollendorfer will renew their rivalry with prime contenders Grace Hall and Via Villaggio in Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Delaware Oaks. The Oaks headlines a card that includes the Grade 3, $200,000 Robert Dick Memorial for fillies and mares on turf and the $50,000 Oh Say for 3-year-olds sprinting six furlongs.

Looking back to the 2010 Oaks, Dutrow said his first reaction was that Havre de Grace, who went on to become the 2011 Horse of the Year, had reached the wire just ahead of Blind Luck.

“Watching the race, I thought we won,” Dutrow said.“But when I saw the photo for the win, it confirmed we had lost. It is still hard to believe, but those were two very, very special fillies.”

Although Dutrow, 54, is a Maryland native, he has deep roots at Delaware Park. His first win came at Delaware with a horse named Attainable in 1978, which was the third consecutive year his father, Richard, was the leading trainer at the track. So winning the Oaks with Grace Hall would be meaningful.

“It would be very special and may be a little overwhelming for me to be able to win one,” Dutrow said. “We have come close before, so hopefully we will be able to get it done this Saturday.”

To improve his chances, Dutrow will saddle two other fillies, Singlet and Wicked Mizz, giving him three of the seven starters in the race. Singlet, who will be coupled with Grace Hall, won two stakes sprinting on Aqueduct’s inner track, but will be racing around two turns and beyond a mile for the first time. Wicked Mizz, who has raced just four times, earned her shot at the Oaks by taking the local prep, the Go for Wand, by 2 1/4 lengths last month.

It’s Grace Hall who is Dutrow’s big gun, however. Winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga at 2, Grace Hall won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks in March and finished third as the 5-2 favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks behind Believe You Can and Broadway’s Alibi. Coincidentally, all three fillies won their maiden at Delaware Park last year.

“In the Kentucky Oaks, we did not have any excuses,” Dutrow said. “She went into the race very well and obviously she ran well against the best fillies in training.”

Dutrow is confident Grace Hall, racing on her home track where she is 2 for 2, will run well again Saturday.

“She could not be doing better,” Dutrow said. “We feel she is coming into the Oaks in excellent shape in every way.”

Dutrow’s main obstacle will come from Hollendorfer, who won the 2010 Delaware Oaks and last year’s Delaware Handicap with Blind Luck. He is bringing in Via Villaggio, who won the Grade 3 Railbird going seven furlongs and finished third in the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks. Both races were on Hollywood’s Cushion Track, the synthetic surface that most closely resembles dirt.

“Her last two races were on artificial surfaces, but we want to try her on the dirt,” Hollendorfer said. “I would rather try her on the dirt instead of the turf. So if she does run well on the dirt, then it would open up a lot more options for her.”

The field also includes Amie’s Dini, runner-up in the Grade 3 Honeybee and Grade 2 Fantasy at Oaklawn; Aubby K, third last time out in the Grade 1 Acorn; and Morrow Cove, stepping way up in class following a nearly 11-length score locally in a nonwinners-of-two allowance.