LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A filly and a mare could crash the male-dominated second day of the season-ending world championships, with Havre de Grace and Goldikova strong contenders in their Breeders' Cup races against the boys.
Havre de Grace (HA'-vur-duh-grays) will face 11 males in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday. The filly was listed at 3-1 on the morning line behind 5-2 favorite Uncle Mo.
Just before the Classic, 7-5 favorite Goldikova will go for a record fourth consecutive victory in the $2 million Mile on the turf, the European star's final race before retirement.
"If she were to pull that off, I think you just bronze her and put her in the infield," said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who doesn't have a horse in the Mile. "You don't give her a trophy."
Friday's opening day of the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs features six races, starting with the new $500,000 Juvenile Sprint for the boys followed by five races exclusively for fillies and mares.
But the $2 million Ladies' Classic didn't have Havre de Grace, whose owner Rick Porter preferred to chase the boys, bigger money and a shot at Horse of the Year honors in the Classic a day later.
"I certainly hope we get good consideration and a lot of it will depend on how we do," he said.
A victory Saturday would put Havre de Grace in strong position to be the third consecutive filly to win Horse of the Year, an honor claimed by Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.
Havre de Grace was named by Porter for the Maryland city and former racetrack located halfway between Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore on the Chesapeake Bay. The name means harbor of grace or mercy in French.
"Around here, we just call her Gracie," trainer Larry Jones said.
She was third in last year's Ladies' Classic at Churchill Downs under a different trainer in the worst finish of her career. She is 5 of 6 this year, including a win against the boys in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 3, beating Classic contender Flat Out by 1 1/4 lengths.
Her only loss this year was to Blind Luck by a nose in the Delaware Handicap in July.
"We think she's the best she's been all year," Jones said.
Besides Uncle Mo, some of Havre de Grace's biggest challengers in the Classic are Flat Out, European import So You Think, Game On Dude and Stay Thirsty.
Havre de Grace will be running 1 1/4 miles for the third time in her career, having finished second twice at the distance to Blind Luck, last year's champion 3-year-old filly. She drew post 10, with Uncle Mo among the horses outside her.
The race is at the same track where Jones' filly Eight Belles finished second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, then broke her ankles as she was pulled up past the finish line and had to be destroyed, horrifying the crowd. Her death had critics calling for fillies to stick to racing against their own gender.
But with the success of Rachel Alexandra, who beat the boys in the 2009 Preakness, and Zenyatta, who became the first female to win the Classic later that year, the controversy has passed.
Jones retired at the end of 2009, bogged down by the rigors of running a 100-plus horse stable and his own struggle to get past Eight Belles' death and the subsequent public fallout. A red sign with her name and eight tiny bells hangs on a nail outside his stable office. Jones brings it along wherever he is racing and on this day he wore an Eight Belles T-shirt under his work clothes. Her ashes are buried outside the Derby Museum at Churchill Downs.
"We keep her close to us," he said.
"Racing is better today because of Eight Belles. She made a lot of changes in a short period time that wasn't getting resolved. She's going to go down with a huge legacy and she's going to go down in history where most of us will be forgotten."
Jones and Porter want the same legacy for Havre de Grace, who would have been the favorite in the Ladies' Classic. Rather than going for a win against her own gender, they are pulling out all the stops by sending her in the Classic.
"This horse could be our Zenyatta," Jones said. "Hopefully she can someday be mentioned in the same breath as Zenyatta and people not cringe."
Jones and Porter started talking about Horse of the Year honors in the summer, and they knew that an easy win by Havre de Grace in the Ladies' Classic wouldn't carry the same weight as a victory against the boys.
"We knew we had to get a little aggressive," Jones said.
Ireland-bred Goldikova is sticking to the Mile, a race she has won the last three years. She has 14 wins in Grade or Group 1 races in her 26-race career, including nine wins against males. She has finished out of the money just once.
"I haven't seen a horse in all my career do what she has done," trainer Freddy Head said.
Some critics have suggested that Goldikova has slipped this year, noting she has two wins and three losses by narrow margins since winning last year's Mile.
"She's getting a bit more lazier. She's gotten a bit heavier," Head said, at the same time noting, "She still has the same will to win. She just wants to run, run, run."
Jockey Olivier Peslier is sad to be riding Goldikova for the last time before she heads off to the breeding shed.
"I'm very happy if I ride the baby," he said.
Goldikova will start from the No. 1 post on a turf course hit by steady rain Thursday. The weekend forecast called for sunny and dry conditions.
"Every time it's been soft (the turf), she's run a little below her form," Head said.