The greatest horse race run this year was, easily, the Delaware Handicap, where the two best female horses in America, and, maybe, the two best horses, period, put on the type of show that no one will soon forget. Two star rivals in Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, fought the length of the stretch with the outcome decided by a nose. Blind Luck was best that day, but only by an inch or two.
This is the type of thing we don’t get nearly enough of in horse racing. The owners and trainers are true sportsmen who don’t duck anyone or anything, the rivalry has been captivating, the horses are stars who are very evenly matched and neither ever disappoints. The first six rounds of Blind Luck-Havre de Grace have been the best long-running show in racing since Easy Goer-Sunday Silence.
And now the New York Racing Association can make it happen all over again, in the Aug. 28 Personal Ensign. It will cost them ($300,000), but they simply cannot say no. To generate this type of excitement and to present the type of race that makes this sport so compelling, it would be money well spent.
After the Delaware Handicap it appeared that Blind Luck and Havre de Grace were about to go their separate ways. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said the Personal Ensign would likely be next for Blind Luck while the connections of Havre de Grace said they were going to take on the boys in the Woodward, also at Saratoga.
It was a particularly smart move by Rick Porter, the owner of Havre de Grace. He could run against Blind Luck for $300,000 in the Personal Ensign and be the second choice or he could run in the Woodward for $750,000, get a break in the weights and probably be the favorite.
But then Porter came up with an interesting Plan B. He said he would run in the Personal Ensign if NYRA raised the purse to $600,000. Under the conditions of the race, Blind Luck would carry 122, two pounds more than Havre de Grace. That represents a four-pound shift in the weights from the Delaware Handicap.
Double the pot and it’s game on, Porter told Daily Racing Form.
When contacted by the Form, NYRA executives said they’d like to mull things over.
NYRA is usually reluctant to raise the purses of its stakes events to attract star horses. The company line has always been that Grade I races in New York have such prestige and signficance that it shouldn’t be necessary to raise the purse. Ordinarily, they would have a point. But this race goes beyond the ordinary, just as the appearance by Rachel Alexandra in the 2009 Woodward did. On that occasion, NYRA raised the purse of the Woodward from $500,000 to $750,000 to get Rachel. Blind Luck-versus-Havre de Grace VII could be every bit as compelling.
They might also want to consider moving the race to Travers Day to turn August 27 from a super day of racing to a super-super day of racing. No doubt the folks at NBC, who are televising the Travers this year, would love that.
Still another factor is Monmouth Park. Though that track may be limited in what it can do this year because of budget constraints, the people at Monmouth love nothing more than to raise purses to lure star attractions. They have done it numerous times, often at the expense of NYRA. If NYRA keeps the Personal Ensign purse at $300,000, might Monmouth bump up the purse for the Aug. 28 Molly Pitcher to $600,000 if they get assurances from the Blind Luck and Havre de Grace camps that they will run?
Yes, $300,000 is a lot of money and these are not the best of times financially for NYRA. But they have a casino coming, are about to start their signature meet, have inked a TV contract with NBC and have the chance to create something special in the Personal Ensign. There’s nothing else to do but to go for it.
While the connections of Havre de Grace and Blind Luck deserves kudos for their sportsmanship, so do George and Lori Hall, the owners of Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice.
The horse probably should pass the Haskell and race instead in the Jim Dandy. His stablemate, Lousiana Derby winner Pants On Fire is a better fit for the race. His running style is more suitable to Monmouth than Ruler On Ice’s is and he actually may be the better horse of the two. To race two horses in the same race when there are other options is not the practical thing to do.
But the Halls are local people and they love Monmouth Park. They have put their own self interests second and will run both horses in the race because that’s what’s good for Monmouth and the Haskell. Better yet, they are embracing the race, have branded their team Fire and Ice and have said they are going to pull out all stops and throw a Fire and Ice party. Good for them.
Originally Posted on ESPN