Sheffer’s filly comes up short

| September 8, 2011

The second visit to New York’s Saratoga by Louisville attorney and Henderson, Ky. native Ron Sheffer as a thoroughbred owner did not live up to his first.
But it still wasn’t bad.

Georgie’s Angel, a previously unbeaten filly that is owned by a partnership that includes Sheffer as its majority member, had won the Schuylerville Stakes at the upstate New York track. Georgie’s Angel was battling for the lead at the head of the stretch in Saturday’s Spinaway Stakes, a Grade I race and a major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies that will be run on Friday, Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

But a Spinaway win was not in the cards on this day for Sheffer. The former Western Kentucky University football player’s filly – the first thoroughbred he has owned – faltered late and finished fourth to unbeaten Grace Hall, who shipped in from Delaware Park.

On the rail

While Georgie’s Angel was not close at the finish, her effort was solid and she was forced to run on the rail throughout the race. That’s not a spot that inexperienced 2-year-olds usually care for, so the Spinaway should have been a good learning experience.

And the loss does not put Sheffer’s filly out of the running for the Breeders’ Cup race at Churchill Downs. Georgie’s Angel won her career debut in impressive fashion over the Louisville track on July 4, and it never hurts to have success over he surface beneath the Twin Spires when the world comes to run at Churchill Downs in the two-day Breeders’ Cup.

Though Sheffer and his partners are surely unhappy with the first loss suffered by Georgie’s Angel, she now has two wins – one in a Grade III stakes race at Saratoga – and a fourth-place run in the Spinaway in her three races. That’s not a bad start on a racing career for either Georgie’s Angel or Sheffer, and there is potential for many good things down the road.

Banned scores, but …

One Churchill Downs-based horse that did enjoy success over the Labor Day holiday weekend was Glen Hill Farm’s Banned, who fought off Santa Anita Derby winner and Kentucky Derby also-ran Midnight Interlude in the stretch to take Saturday’s Del Mar Derby on the grass at the oceanside Southern California track.

Banned, a two-time stakes winner on the grass at Churchill Downs during its Spring Meet, won the Del Mar race by a nose under jockey Garrett Gomez. The colt will probably stay in California for the Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita in October, but Proctor – who scored one of the biggest upsets in Breeders’ Cup history when he saddled 47-1 shot One Dreamer to win the Distaff (now Ladies’ Classic) at Churchill Downs in 1994 – said a Breeders’ Cup bid for Banned at his home track is unlikely.

No cup fan

“The Breeders’ Cup, maybe next year if he’s still around,” Proctor said after Saturday’s win. “The Breeders’ Cup is the end-all for everybody but me. I’m not a big Breeders’ Cup fan.”

The most notable U.S. race of the weekend was the Woodward at Saratoga, where the 4-year-old filly Havre de Grace defeated males for just the second time in the history of the venerable race for older horses and put her name in he mix for the “Horse of the Year” debate.

Like Rachel!

Trained by Hopkinsville, Ky., native Larry Jones, Havre de Grace became just the second filly to win the Woodward, following the lead of 2009 winner Rachel Alexandra, who went on take “Horse of the Year” honors that season.

Watch the fillies

There’s a real chance that fillies will outshine the males when U.S. postseason honors are handed out in January. The top older fillies in training this year are Have de Grace and Blind Luck, the winner of the 2010 Kentucky Oaks who nipped Havre de Grace in the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap last time out.

Fox Hill Farm and Jones grabbed the edge over Blind Luck for year-end honors with the Woodward win, especially since Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer declined to run Blind Luck against males in the recent Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Fillies and mares who earn “Horse of the Year” honors usually whip males somewhere along the way. Lady’s Secret and Azeri did it, and Rachel downed the boys three times during her championship season.

Zenyatta did not down males in last year’s Horse of the Year campaign, but did finish second to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the only defeat of her career and had downed males in the 2009 Classic over a synthetic surface at Santa Anita.

Grace in position

In a year in which older males, like the current 3-year-old crop, have taken turns beating each other, the win by Havre de Grace puts her in a great position for a bid for “Horse of the Year.”  She has the win over males under her belt and if she can win what figures to be two more races against females this spring – including a possible match-up against Blind Luck in the Ladies’ Classic – that will probably be enough to earn her the gold Eclipse Trophy that goes to each season’s “Horse of the Year.”

Hollendorfer, Blind Luck’s trainer, is conservative by nature, and a home run swing against boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic seems unlikely.

With fewer than 60 days remaining before the Breeders’ Cup, Havre de Grace’s win in the Woodward is on the short list of candidates for “race of the year.”  And it could look even bigger at year’s end when voters cast their votes for the champions of 2011.

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