Havre de Grace (right) won the $750,000 Fitx Dixon Cotillion at Parxx Racing on October 2, exacting revenge from her arch rival, Blind Luck, to whom she lost photo finishes in her previous two starts.
In horseracing a lot of success is linked to pedigree – both horse and human.
Consider Rick Dutrow, Sr. One of the sport’s top claiming trainers, along with King T. Leatherbury, John J. Tammaro, Jr. and Bud Delp, the “Big Four” dominated racing in Maryland during the 1960s and '70s. In 1975, Dutrow topped all U. S. trainers with 352 wins. Later in his career he competed on the New York racing circuit and developed top Grade-1 winners such as Lite The Fuse, Flawlessly and the horse known as the "King of Aqueduct," King's Swan. Dutrow died of cancer in 1999, having posted 3,665 career wins.
Rick is his middle son. He is one of New York’s top horsemen, training a slew of stakes horses over the past decade, including St. Liam who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2005. Rick is also brash and flamboyant. He found the spotlight in 2008 with Kentucky Derby and Preakness champ Big Brown, then saw all his bravado come crashing down when the brilliant colt inexplicably failed to put forth any effort in the Belmont Stakes in one of the most mystifying races of all time.
Eldest son Tony started working around his father’s Maryland barn. By age ten he knew he had a lifetime of horses in front of him. He has been a mainstay on the Mid-Atlantic and New York circuits since saddling his first winner, Attainable, in 1978 at Delaware Park. A former assistant to Bobby Frankel (1985-87), Dutrow credits the late trainer with helping him start his own outfit.
For the next two decades Dutrow labored in relative anonymity, but was known for his outstanding work by peers and horse racing insiders. Easy going and thoughtful, Tony is the polar opposite of brother Rick. Around his barns there are very few pipe dreams. It is all about focus, determination and work ethic, traits his father instilled in all three sons (another brother Chip is also a trainer based in New York.)
Four to Breeder’s Cup
All that hard work has paid off. Dutrow is expected to send a four-strong team to Churchill Downs for the Breeders Cup races, Nov. 5-6. The lineup includes Havre de Grace, A Little Warm, Rightly So, and Joyful Victory. His lone Breeders' Cup starter was Belmont Futurity winner Burning Roma, who was fourth in the 2000 Juvenile. His brother Rick has two starters, Court Vision in BC Mile and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint contender Stradivisnky plus two other possible entrants.
Three-year old filly Havre de Grace scored an impressive Grade-2 win in the $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes at Parxx Racing on October 2. She got the jump on Blind Luck, took a huge lead in the stretch, and then withstood a furious charge by her summer nemesis to snatch the victory. She covered the 1 1/16 race in 1:40.93, just .13 off the track record. The next showdown with the nation's top 3-year-old filly, Blind Luck, is the $2 million Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic on Nov. 5.
"When she was clear in mid-stretch I could sense her waiting for Blind Luck," related jockey Jeremy Rose. "She's really matured, though, and when Blind Luck hooked her late, she responded. She battled all the way."
It was the first career stakes victory for Havre de Grace. She is from the first and only crop of the late stallion Saint Liam. Twice this summer Havre de Grace had been defeated by multiple Grade-1 winner and division leader Blind Luck -- by a nose in the July 10 Delaware Oaks (Grade-2) at Delaware Park and by a neck in the Alabama Stakes (Grade-1) at Saratoga. Dutrow won the 2008 Cotillion with Seattle Smooth.
“Our whole team is very excited to have four runners in the Breeders’ Cup,” said Tony Dutrow, 52, who has stables at Parxx Racing and Delaware Park. "They all belong there. Havre de Grace came out of the Cotillion very well. She has taken on the best of her generation in the very best races. And she’s improved every race from the time before. Unlike some of her races, in the Breeders Cup we think she’ll have a target to run at through the wire."
With Maryland racing continuing to struggle, in the summer of 2004 Dutrow packed up his family and purchased a house in Newtown, Pa. close by Philadelphia Park. Dutrow knew he needed to take advantage of the slot machine windfall that was to start in December 2006. Since then purses at Parxx have doubled. His win percentage has hovered in lofty territory at around 30% in recent years, racing mostly at Parxx, Delaware Park and Aqueduct. Prior to this year his three career Grade 1 wins came in 2000 with Burning Roma in the Futurity Stakes and last year with Seattle Smooth in the Ogden Phipps Handicap and Cat Moves in the Prioress Stakes.
“The people I’m training for are giving me good horses. I feel they’re doing their part. I need to do mine.”
Better-bred and more expensive stock is the name of the game. When Larry Jones announced his retirement from racing, owner Rick Porter sought out the low-key trainer to train a dozen or so of his horses with a band of two-year olds recently coming to Dutrow's barn. Edward Evans’ homebred A Little Warm stamped himself as a major 3-year-old player in the Jim Dandy in Saratoga in July when he posted a 1 3/4-length victory for his first graded win. The smallish colt finished third (by a nose) in the $1 Million Pennsylvania Derby in late September and will run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
“He’s been a very consistent horse, well traveled, who can be on the lead or come from behind,” the trainer said. “He’s at the top of his game.”
Ahmed Zayat’s Zayat Stables’ Rightly So was last seen wiring a field of seven other fillies and mares three-year olds and up in winning the seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes (Grade-1) on Travers Day at Saratoga. She had achieved all six previous lifetime victories on the front end and in the Ballerina she shot straight to the lead.
Never off the board in all eleven careers starts, Rightly So’s record is 7-3-1 after the Ballerina (her second graded stakes win and fourth stakes score) bringing her purse earnings to $490,050. She will compete in the Filly and Mare Sprint.
Yet another Breeders’ Cup starter is Porter’s Joyful Victory who finished third beaten five lengths in the $400,000 Frizette Stakes (G1) on October 9. She will run in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on November 5.
Highs and Lows
If you spend time around the racing game for any length of time, you learn it rotates around these components-- hope, disappointment, determination and dedication. Dutrow believed he had a gem of a three-year-old in A Little Warm in 2010. Health setbacks delayed his racing schedule earlier in the year and he didn’t have enough graded earning stakes to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Entered in the Preakness, he spiked a fever that forced him out of the Triple Crown race. But Dutrow took his time with the bay colt, figuring out what he needed and gradually A Little Warm rounded into shape.
On a sun-drenched late afternoon (August 1) in Saratoga, life couldn’t have been better for Dutrow. Twenty-three hours earlier he had saddled A Little Warm, a convincing winner in the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes. Then Winslow Homer crushed his competition by nine lengths in the $75,000 in the Curlin Stakes.
One of the top contenders for the 2010 Kentucky Derby, the long striding son of Unbridled’s Song was knocked off the Derby Trail with a leg injury earlier in the year. Surely, Dutrow was reveling in the idea that he had two of the top three-year olds in his barn.
Then disappointment. The day after the race, owner Porter’s Winslow Homer was diagnosed with a condylar fracture of his left foreleg that put him on the shelf for the rest of the racing season.
“The way he ran in the Curlin, we were overwhelmed,” the trainer related. “Then once again, devastation. After awhile we picked ourselves back up. Our goal is to get him back to racing next year so people will see Winslow Homer be the horse we always believed him to be.”
Dutrow now maintains divisions in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware and oversees a 100-horse stable. He typifies an everyday horseman who puts in the long hours, hard work and intuitive planning.
“I learned it all from my father-- work ethic, attention to detail, commitment and sacrifices,” Dutrow related. “He excelled at all that. I thought the world of him.”
What would his father think of Dutrow’s four runners in the Breeders’ Cup?
“He was a tough guy so he would never let either Ricky or me think or believe we were successful,” replied the trainer. “He wouldn’t have applauded our success out loud. Deep down, I don’t know actually what he would be feeling.”
Named for Famous Racetrack
As for Havre de Grace, she earned a career high Beyer Speed figure of 104 with her neck win in the Cotillion. Blind Luck toted 124 pounds in the Cotillion per the conditions of the stakes, spotting each of her rivals 10 pounds. In the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, both horses will carry 122 pounds as 3-year olds.
Porter named her in honor of the famous Maryland racetrack, nicknamed "The Graw." It was popular in the 1920s and hosted some of the greats of the sport. Man o’ War, Citation, War Admiral, Sir Barton, Seabiscuit, Equipoise, Exterminator, Discover, Sarazen, Sun Beau, and Crusader all dusted their competition over the one-mile oval.
Porter feels his Havre de Grace will do the name proud. The Wilmington, Del. resident won the 2006 Breeder’s Cup Distaff with Round Pond.
“She finally refused to get nipped at the wire,” Porter said. “Havre de Grace ran a very game race. Sometimes when she gets the lead in the stretch she tends to lose interest. As for the Ladies Classic we won’t have that weight advantage, but on the other hand she should have something to run at. We think that will make her run harder. Ideally, she’ll come running at the 1/16-pole and take it home. If all goes well the plan is to bring her back as a 4-year old.”
Havre de Grace showed real promise as a two-year old in 2009. Dutrow’s success with 2-year olds was a strong selling point for Porter, whose primary racing goal is to win the Kentucky Derby. He was second with Hard Spun in 2007 and with the late Eight Belles in 2008.
“Tony is very cautious with young horses,” Porter explained. “Physically, he keeps a good eye on them so he catches small things before they become big things. We have an open communication and that is very important to me. I give him my input, but it’s up to Tony to make decisions.”
Dutrow says he is a firm believer that horses take you where you need to go.
“Look, the Breeders' Cup is big business,” he said. “Big races, big purses, possible championships on the line. Our team has a very dedicated, matter of fact approach. That said, we are definitely smelling the roses as we’re going by.”
Contact Pennsylvania Equestrian racing reporter Terry Conway at firstname.lastname@example.org.