Grab the Rivalry and Run With It - By Eric Mitchell

 (Originally published in the July 30, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell Another golden opportunity has been dropped into the lap of Thoroughbred racing.

A real rivalry; not one manufactured by publicists, but an honest, gritty, and scintillating rivalry the likes of which we haven’t seen since Personal Ensign and Winning Colors.

In truth, it is much better than the one between Personal Ensign and Winning Colors because they only raced against one another two times—in the Maskette Stakes (gr. I) and later in an unforgettable Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I), in which Personal Ensign preserved her perfect record by a heart-stopping nose.

Havre de Grace and Blind Luck have now faced each other six times and each race has been a thriller. The running styles of these remarkable 4-year-old fillies only help to build the drama.

A daughter of Saint Liam—Easter Bunnette, by Carson City, Havre de Grace stalks the leaders and waits to pounce. Blind Luck, a daughter of Pollard’s Vision—Lucky One, by Best of Luck, drops to the back of the pack before kicking into a tremendous passing-gear drive in the stretch that leaves her rivals—and her owners and fans—stunned and dazzled at the wire.

In their first three contests against one another, Blind Luck won the Delaware Oaks (gr. II) by a nose and then the Betfair/TVG Alabama Stakes (gr. I) by a neck. Havre de Grace followed with a neck victory in the Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes (gr. II). They both competed in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) last year, with Blind Luck finishing second and Havre de Grace third behind Unrivaled Belle.

This year the combatants have gone to battle against each other twice. Havre de Grace, who has won three of four starts in 2011, won the Azeri Stakes (gr. III) by 31⁄4 lengths over her archrival, and Blind Luck, who has won three times and been second three times in six starts, took the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) by a nose. Blind Luck has traveled cross-country from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s California base an unheard of nine times in the last 15 months. By the estimate of The Blood-Horse’s senior correspondent Steve Haskin, Blind Luck has traveled 36,000 miles.

Where are the T-shirts, the buttons, and the signs espousing racing fans’ loyalty to the Blind Luck or Havre de Grace racing camps? We sincerely hope they’re on order so they will be ready to ship the minute another showdown is announced.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association has begun cranking up its public-relations machine for a campaign that will be guided by recent hire Stephen Panus, the NTRA’s new vice president of communications, according to Keith Chamblin, the organization’s senior vice president.

“It is on Stephen’s shortlist of projects between now and the Breeders’ Cup,” Chamblin said. “We are working with The Jockey Club through NTRA Communications to do a tale of the tape for both fillies on the website and compile other data and statistics that will be promoted to mainstream media. Outside of the Triple Crown, we have never seen a rivalry like this. We need to enjoy it while we have it and exploit it for the marketing while we have it.”

Breeders’ Cup has devoted a new section on its website entirely to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), which could be fortuitous should Havre de Grace and Blind Luck opt for the $5 million Classic instead of the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. We don’t see too many challengers out there that would scare these two off from the main event, Nov. 5. Should they choose to stay in the Ladies’ Classic, it may be the more compelling race, so here’s hoping Breeders’ Cup finds the space to promote it heavily between now and November, particularly now that we’ve lost one of the dudes to injury. First Dude has been retired because of a strained tendon he suffered in a tremendous victory over Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).

These unique stories and tremendous clashes between racing titans don’t come along often enough. Let’s rally 
the sports world and build the next contests between

Blind Luck and Havre de Grace into what they will be—historic, have-to-be-there, roaring, adrenaline-pumped battle royales.

Racing never needed this more than now.

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