SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 3, 2011--She is really for real, Horse of the Year kind of real. But maybe, in the final analysis, she’s an inch behind Blind Luck. And just how many inches is Harve De Grace behind Tizway, the Met Mile and Whitney winner? Several, many?

And are we talking nine furlongs or 10?

These are questions for another day. This is a time for celebration of a marvelous filly, and for a celebration of the game. We don’t like to run fillies against colts in this country. Maybe we do, but certainly not enough.

But for the second time in three years, the storied Woodward was won by a filly, this one a four-year-old, not a three-year-old; this one a finisher, not a speedster; this one in a pitched battle for Horse of the Year.

Just like the three-year-old heroine of the 2010 Woodward Stakes.

And it wasn’t easy, not that Grade 1s ever are, but Rule, a horse for the Saratoga course, was setting a measured pace over a fast but demanding racetrack.

Parenthetically, the surface was one that required Jackson Bend 1:22 to win the Grade 1 Forego a half hour earlier. He needed only 1:20.91 to win the James Marvin earlier at the meet on a surface that was a lot more glib.

Further, the filly was hung out there in the three-path at mid-far turn before making her rally, a tack that has been very anti-profile almost the entire meet.

But there was Harve De Grace at headstretch, going on the attack after Rule, fighting her way to the lead. In the end, she was 1-¼ lengths to the good of Flat Out, who came on late to catch a tiring Rule for the place.

Harve De Grace required 1:49.18 to get her job done. When Rachel Alexandra won this race two years ago, the running time over a surface that played a lot quicker than Saturday’s, was 1:48.29.

And so let the Horse of the Year games begin. “I think we were in the picture before,” said winning trainer Larry Jones. “Maybe it was a low-profile picture, but I think this puts us up there with everyone else.”

Read Blind Luck and Tizway here. Indeed, it will be interesting to see which horse is ranked in the top spot in the NTRA poll released Tuesday.

The next start for Harve De Grace will be either Keeneland‘s Spinster or Belmont Park‘s Beldame. Blind Luck is being pointed toward the Lady‘s Secret in SoCal. Tizway has a date October 1 in Belmont’s Jockey Club Gold Cup.

“We gave her a chance to show how good she was,” said owner Rick Porter. “She deserved a chance to show it. I think she’s one of the best, but I think between now and the Breeders’ Cup, we’ll find out who’s the best.”

They're Ba-ack

That’s Nick Zito and Jackson Bend, both. Not that they’ve been away that long, or were very far away.

For Zito, it was this winter and early spring, when Dialed In ruled the three-year-old roost and Zito had a Florida Derby winner that might have supplied him with a third blanket of roses, courtesy of Churchill Downs.

That could have made up for 2010, for those many losing Grade 1 photo finishes, but it was not meant to be. Today it was, and it felt good.

“It worked out perfectly for him,” Zito said of the talented four-year-old who won his first graded stakes. “We all got excited [on the turn]. Tom Durkin’s call was right on the money, ‘Jackson Bend’s starting to run’.”

And run he did, improving his record to 7-5-2 from 20 starts and now an equine millionaire as well.

Jackson Bend is a good colt that got caught up in the 2010 Triple Crown chase but might have found his true niche sprinter, or as a miler. Zito got the four-year-old colt back on track, and himself back in a Grade 1 winners’ circle.

Personal Ensign Fails to Make the Grade

Don’t want to say that the Personal Ensign was disappointing but first, of course, we were expecting Harve De Grace vs. Blind Luck so how could anything else measure up?

Both those fillies have grand plans but to give away a big payday and a Grade 1 title, well it must be sporting of them, right?

Here’s all you need to know about the 64th running of the Personal Ensign. You could have claimed the winner on June 15 at Belmont.

What’s the matter with you? Like you had something better to do that afternoon?

All you needed to do after that was prep in the ungraded Sky Beauty 16 days later, was purchase her privately, send her to trainer Marty Wolfson, cross-enter your new acquisition at Monmouth Park and Saratoga on July 31, choose the “tougher” spot in New York, then win the Grade 1 Ruffian and “get out” on the filly.

And now you’ve got a horse that’s really worth something, a six-year-old Grade 1-winning mare. But why stop there.

Read the trades and the Internet, rejoice when you learn that neither of the divisional leading fillies will attend, return to your Monmouth base--that’s if Mary Wolfson is your trainer.

Then, work her twice, ship back up to the North Country again, blow her out, run her in the Personal Ensign, and become the only dual Grade 1 winner of Saratoga 143.

How easy is that? Can you beat virtually the same group you handled by 5-¾ lengths in the Ruffian, plus another faster filly, Pachattack, but one’s who’s never run on dirt in 23 starts?

Now, take the lead in a relatively paceless race and if you can run your final quarter mile in :27.28 seconds; race horse time--if you’re a top trotter or pacer.

Bob and weave your way home for an eighth of a mile, and no one’s good enough to catch you. Not Pachattack who was left for dead at the five-sixteenths, and not Tiz Miz Sue, who had every chance with momentum and a quarter-mile to catch the leader, but remained one-paced.

Sometimes in life, lucky and smart, is better than being of championship quality.