Behind the Scenes with: Grace Hall

Alabama contender Grace Hall with trainer Tony Dutrow in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (C. Novak)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Grace Hall rolled off the horse van Aug. 13 and headed out to graze on the backside of Saratoga Race Course with trainer Tony Dutrow keeping a capable hand on the shank. The bay filly who won the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) here in 2011 took in her surroundings with a calm but curious eye, alternating between grass consumption and an alert review of the area.

"She’s enjoying looking around and seeing what’s going on," owner Michael Dubb remarked. "She was here last summer; I’m sure she’s recognizing what’s going on here."

Under the quiet and capable care of Dutrow, this 3-year-old Empire Maker filly continues to blossom for Dubb and his partners, most recently dominating the Delaware Oaks (gr. II). You can read more about how her connections planned a campaign to get her to Saturday's Alabama Stakes (gr. I) here.

Late yesterday morning it was quiet on the Saratoga backside, no rush, just the comforting sound of a horse munching grass and the low-toned conversation of the two men who had nothing more important to do at that moment than stand and admire her.

"This is a dream come true," Dubb said. "It’s not just a filly, it’s a little bit of family. Tony and Kim Dutrow and Mike Caruso and Stuart Grant, we’re all like family. I’m not just having the experience of a special horse and owning it by myself; I’m sharing it with other people, so it really brings a new level of enthusiasm and good feelings about the situation go way up."

Co-owner Michael Dubb greets Grace Hall at Saratoga (C. Novak)

In 2010, Dutrow had Havre de Grace in his barn prepping for an Alabama run (she finished second by a neck to nemesis Blind Luck). That was the last time I swung by his barn, when we talked about his background and philosophies and training goals and dreams.

"I realize, having done this all my life, my daddy before me, that these situations are few and far between," Dutrow said yesterday of finding a runner like Grace Hall. "So you respect how very difficult it is to get there, and that makes you appreciate the successes maybe to their fullest. When Grace Hall wins some of these races that she’s won, you’re feeling so gratified by all that you and your team have put into it, it’s an enormous sense of gratification and at the same time you realize just how fortunate you are to be a part of this. That’s how I feel."

Trainer Tony Dutrow gives Grace Hall a pat at Saratoga (C. Novak)

Grace Hall's path to the Alabama has been carefully charted in order to give her the optimal chance at performing to the best of her abilities, and Dubb had nothing but good things to say for the horseman who has kept the 2011 Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) runner-up in excellent condition.

"Tony gets up every morning at 2:30 a.m. and goes to work and works virtually every minute of every day that he’s awake," the owner said."There are plenty of people who work hard in the industry, but he does it without complaining to anybody, with class, in a soft-spoken manner. He's just a real special person. He's all good and the filly’s all good."

Grace Hall says "Whaddup?" (C. Novak)

She’s earned over a million dollars, has never been out of the money, and has danced many of the dances. Grace Hall also has the personality to go with a champion. You can see that just watching her.

"She’s like, 'I’m the boss here, and I’m going to do what I want to do,'' Dubb laughed. " 'You want to pet me, I want to eat grass, I’m eating grass.' And that's okay with me."

Grace Hall has won five of her eight starts, with two seconds and a third. In addition to the Delaware Oaks and Spinaway, she counts the Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II) and a runner-up finish in the Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) this year among her accomplishments.

"She's just getting better and better and better," Dubb said."I’ve been in the game about 10 years and I’ve won at least 50 stakes races with horses I’ve claimed; the list would be enormous if I started naming them. But I still have never had a horse of this quality. I’ve had thrills and thrills and thrills upon thrills, but nothing that would come close to this. This would be as close to a life-changing experience as I can get owning a racehorse."

Michael Dubb, Grace Hall, Tony Dutrow, at Saratoga (C. Novak)

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