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Labor Day Weekend Horse Racing: Saratoga and Del Mar

The lineup of stakes at Saratoga and Del Mar for the Labor Day Weekend is so deep that it seems unfair to focus on one $750,000 race for older horses—the   Woodward at Saratoga on Saturday. (AP Images)"]

For sure, Saratoga will run four Grade-1 races through the weekend---the Forego at 7 furlongs for older sprinters, a race that will include the versatile SIDNEY’S CANDY; the Personal Ensign for fillies and mares at nine furlongs, a race postponed to Saturday when Hurricane Irene forced Saratoga to close on Sunday.

The two other Grade-1’s at ”˜The Spa’ are both at 7 furlongs for top 2 year olds, the traditional Spinaway for   juvenile fillies on Sunday and the Hopeful for the best 2 year olds in the east on Labor Day, Monday, the last day of racing at Saratoga this year.

Not to be outdone, Del Mar by the Pacific Ocean, will offer more than a half dozen Graded Stakes through its final four racing cards, including the popular Del Mar Derby at 9 furlongs on the turf, Sunday, plus a pair of 7 furlong Grade-1 stakes for the best 2 year olds out west—the Del Mar Debutante on Saturday and the Del Mar Futurity on its closing Day, Wednesday.

But aside from all of that—the focus this weekend has to go to the Woodward at5 Saratoga on Saturday for one specific reason: HAVRE DE GRACE.

Yes, that 4 year old daughter of 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam is going to try and pull off a ”˜Rachel Alexandra’ in this Woodward.

Remember, Rachel Alexandra won this race over male rivals in 2009, a feat that probably scored enough points to eclipse undefeated ZENYATTA for that season’s Horse of the Year Award. No doubt now, the people behind Havre de Grace believe they need a win in the Woodward to put their filly into the Horse of the Year discussion.

One of those people who are aggressively managing this filly is the exceptional trainer Larry Jones who took over from Anthony Dutrow after Dutrow brought Havre de Grace to prominence in 2010.

Can Havre de Grace do it? Can she handle seven male rivals that have won a combined 35 races and earnings in excess of $5.5 million? Can she handle a field that is significantly stronger than the field Rachel beat two years ago? Can Havre de Grace, the morning line 8-5 betting favorite, accomplish all this on a racing surface that has long had the reputation as the “Graveyard for Favorites”

Or, maybe Havre de Grace will look around at her competition during this nine furlong contest and feel she is getting some class relief by not having to face her female nemesis---the outstanding stretch runner BLIND LUCK. You remember her, the filly who sometimes acts like Zenyatta and explodes late to pass all her rivals and take down the money right at the finish line?

Well, Blind Luck is resting after having done her magic act by catching Havre de Grace by the slimmest of margins in the 10 furlong Delaware Handicap, seven weeks ago. That was the third time Blind Luck has beaten Havre de Grace at the wire in their rivalry that has escalated to historic proportions.

In Saturday’s Woodward, Havre de Grace will have to beat the 2010 Florida Derby winner, ICE BOX; the 2010 Louisiana Derby and 2011 New Orleans Handicap winner, MISSION IMPAZIBLE; 2011 Donn Handicap winner GIANT OAK; the Todd Pletcher trained RULE, a winner of $942,000 who has been in the money 11 of his 13 races; CONVOCATION, the James Jerkens trained winner of a good prep race at this distance over the track five weeks ago; FLAT OUT, winner of the Suburban Handicap at Belmont and second to Tizway in the Whitney on this track Aug. 6, and MAMBO MEISTER, winner of his last two at Calder including a minor stakes that earned him a sky high 110 Beyer Speed Figure.

Good luck to Havre de Grace. She certainly will need it. Good luck also to all Bodog horseplayers who have a veritable smorgasbord of great races to play this weekend. . .By the way, after a week at Saratoga, I’ll be looking for good plays through Del Mar’s closing day, Wed. Sept. 7 and will be hosting my annual Handicapping Seminar on Sunday—Del Mar Derby Day--at 12:45 PM, at the 1/8 pole in front of the Del Mar grandstand. Enjoy the holiday weekend. Oh, and don't forget to get all your horse racing odds in the Bodog Racebook now.

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