The American horse racing industry has long clung to the notion that fillies aren’t as fast, good or as strong as colts and should compete primarily against their own kind. Sorry, but it’s time for a serious reevaluation of that line of thinking.
The best two horses, of either sex, to compete in the U.S. in 2009 and 2010 were Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Between them, they won the Preakness, Haskell, Woodward and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Rachel Alexandra was the 2009 Horse of the Year. Zenyatta was the 2010 Horse of the Year.
It would be easy to dismiss the last two years as an aberration, a period that produced two of the best female horses of all time. In some respects, that’s true. Horses like Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra come around every once in a great while. But it’s a new year, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra have both been retired, and the best horses in the sport are once again females.
When it comes to the boys, this has been as bad a year as anyone can remember. They are slow and inconsistent, so much so that no one seems capable of stringing two wins together. The best 3-year-old colt in the country was Animal Kingdom and he’s out for the year, no longer a major contender for any season-ending honors. The older horses are a largely anonymous group without an ounce of star power. Can any male horse take over and dominate the rest of the year? That certainly seems unlikely.
There is no such lack of talent among the nation’s older fillies, even if they haven’t gotten much acclaim. Havre de Grace, Blind Luck and Awesome Maria may just be the three best horses in the country, and one could easily be Horse of the Year in 2011.
Havre de Grace is arguably the best among the group. She is 3 for 3 this year, whipped Blind Luck in the Apple Blossom and is heading toward the rich Delaware Handicap, another likely win.
Blind Luck is a throwback. She’s tough and durable and her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, runs her in pretty much every big spot he can find. After starting the year with three straight second-place finishers, she appears to be back on top of her game. She’s coming off consecutive wins and just took the Grade I Vanity.
Awesome Maria is 4 for 4 this year and just picked up her first career Grade I win when capturing the Phipps at Belmont.
The 3-year-old filly division isn’t as deep or as talented, but, with Zazu, R Heat Lightning, Plum Pretty, Royal Delta, and others, it’s not terrible, either.
To get from where they’re at now to Horse of the Year, these fillies are going to have to take a crack at colts. It’s the only way they’ll get the respect they deserve. That means their owners are going to have to also break free from a mindset that keeps fillies locked into their own division. In Europe, owners and trainers have no problem taking on colts with top fillies. Goldikova does it all the time.
At least one owner is already considering it. When asked whether or not Havre de Grace might run against males, owner Rick Porter replied: “If Havre de Grace looked like she could be very competitive with the boys, we would consider it. (Trainer) Larry (Jones) and I have talked about it but the time has not come to consider it.”
They need not be afraid. These are very strong fillies, very good fillies can beat good males and this year’s group of males is among the weakest ever. Horse of the Year is out there for some filly to grab. Go for it.
TOC gets new leader
The Thoroughbred Owners of California have handed the reins of their organization to veteran racing executive Lou Raffetto. They could not have made a better choice as Raffetto is knowledgeable, passionate and has a proven record of success. There may not be a better racing executive in the country.
With that said, Raffetto will have no chance to right the ship in California unless he is allowed to make some tough decisions and given the freedom to do so by his bosses. California racing is in a crisis situation and the reasons are simple: with the backing of the Thoroughbred Owners of California the state passed a huge takeout increase that has chased away gamblers and driven handle into the ground; and there are not nearly enough horses out there to fill the glut of racing cards they have. The takeout has to come down and the number of racing dates has to be cut.
Raffetto must know this, but he’s already towing the company line. In an interview with the Paulick Report, he defended the takeout increase. He’s too smart for that. If he’s just going to be another mouthpiece for the status quo, he won’t be able to make a difference. If he’s given some freedom and allowed to do what he knows is right he might just be the one to save California racing.
Originally Posted on ESPN