Image courtesy of HorsePhotos.com
Fans young and old jockeyed for position on the dew-draped Keeneland rail to get a glimpse of racing’s top athletes during “Breakfast with the Works.” On this particular day, the crowds arrived early to claim a space close to the track in anticipation of watching the possibly Smurf-tailed Hansen run in Keeneland’s prestigious Blue Grass Stakes (G1). The growing crowd huddled with their coffee and hot chocolate against the backdrop of a beautiful, new spring day. Basking in the ambience of galloping horses, the early railbirds of the racetrack quickly realized the truth behind the adage, ‘The early bird gets the worm!’
That special morning, Havre de Grace stepped onto the track. Her trainer, Larry Jones, rode her down the rail in front of the grandstand, graciously greeting all with a cheerful “Good Morning!” The sweet-natured 5-year-old mare moved calmly over the synthetic PolyTrack surface but curious of her environment.
Havre de Grace, trainer Larry Jones aboard, morning workouts Keeneland Race Course, April 2012
Spending time at a racetrack offers many opportunities to witness beautiful moments. But then, there are those extraordinary moments — goosebump moments. As if scripted for a Disney movie, all heads turned toward the top of the stretch, waiting for the champion to emerge from the misty turn. The occasional whispered “Here she comes” broke the quiet. In the ambient light, her soft, rhythmic breathing punctuated her waltzing gallop as she drew closer to the crowd. The 2011 Horse of the Year had done it many times before: Havre de Grace passed the wire, all eyes fixated deliberately on her. However, this moment transcended into a surreal dimension when she and her trainer passed before the large screen tote board rolling vintage footage. In one brief, magical moment, a present racing star had crossed paths with legends of the past.
A few short weeks later, the gift of that morning became even more valuable when she was retired from racing due to a tendon injury. Consequently, she was sent to Taylor Made Farm to prepare for the Fasig-Tipton November sale.
Havre de Grace at Taylor Made Farm, Oct. 2012, Photo courtesy of Tom Ferry
Havre de Grace probably will garner the top price at the November 5 sale, even in a book including the dams of both dual classic winner I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister. She will sell at this one night ‘boutique’ breeding and racing stock sale as hip number 76. You can watch the sale on the live streaming video at Fasig-Tipton’s website: http://www.fasigtipton.com/
My pilgrimage back to Lexington for Keeneland’s fall meet brought me face to face with this special mare again. Mother Nature dialed up a spectacular morning at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky. The canvas boasted of a perfectly crisp, fall morning: dew-soaked green grass, clear blue skies and blushing trees - as if Taylor Made has interpreted the definition of their name quite literally by tailoring the color of the turning leaves to match their signature farm color!
Taylor Made Stallion Division, Oct. 2012
Driving through the maze of barns and pastures of the 1,600-acre farm, we eventually reached our destination. Walking to the backside of the barn, there were two grassy paddocks - within each stood a single bay mare. Though not an unusual site in the Bluegrass State, there was nothing ordinary about what I was seeing. To my left was Havre de Grace and to my right was 2011 Kentucky Oaks (G1) victress Plum Pretty!
Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty turned out in neighboring paddocks at Taylor Made Farm, Oct. 2012
The two mares were instantly inquisitive of their visitors. Havre de Grace abandoned her grazing and approached her gate to welcome us, no doubt hoping to devour peppermints. Her character matches the conformation of her face perfectly. She has a kind, gentle, gracious demeanor. She has a playful look to her eye — proving it by entertaining us as she galloped up the rail, racing against Plum Pretty. Yes … another goosebump moment!
Havre de Grace and I at Taylor Made Farm, Oct. 2012
A BEAUTY WORTH BOASTING ABOUT
Havre de Grace began her path towards racing fame as many others by going through Keeneland’s September yearling sale. Selling in the prestigious first book in 2008, she represented Saint Liam’s first crop. Bloodstock agent Tom McGreevy, buying for Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, noticed Havre de Grace at the Mill Ridge Sales consignment and purchased her for $380,000.
Havre de Grace at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale, photo courtesy of Candice Chavez
She stepped into the spotlight later in her 3-year-old campaign when she challenged 2010 Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck on multiple occasions. The rivalry between these two fillies captured the imagination of racing fans. Havre de Grace won two out of her six career races against Blind Luck, and in one of these starts, the Azeri Stakes (G3), she won by a convincing 3 ¼ lengths. Havre de Grace finished third to Unrivaled Belle and Blind Luck, respectively, in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1), beaten by 2 ¾ lengths.
Blind Luck edged Havre de Grace in the 2010 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course in one of their many thrilling showdowns (Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese/NYRA)
Havre de Grace improved with age. As a 4-year-old, she won the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), and was nosed out by Blind Luck for the victory in the Delaware Handicap (G2). In Belmont Park’s Beldame Invitational Stakes (G1), she shattered a solid field of fillies and mares including the eventual 2011 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) winner Royal Delta by 8 ¼ lengths.
2011 Beldame Invitational Stakes (G1), Belmont Park (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
The Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year was her goal for 2011 - she stepped out of her division to dare older males in the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course. In the Woodward’s long history, Rachel Alexandra was the only filly to win this race when she prevailed in 2009. Against a fair field of older males that included the distinguished Flat Out, Havre de Grace carried on the sensation of “girl power” by becoming the second horse of the female gender to triumph in the Woodward.
Havre de Grace concluded her 4-year-old campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). It was in this race where she faced her most arduous endeavor yet. Havre de Grace confronted some of the top male athletes such as Flat Out, Game On Dude, Ruler On Ice, So You Think, and Uncle Mo. She offered the luminous Churchill Downs grandstand a willing effort, trailing the victorious Drosselmeyer by three lengths.
Havre De Grace racing behind horses in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Churchill Downs (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
Havre de Grace was slated to make her 5-year-old debut in Oaklawn Park’s Apple Blossom Handicap. However, she opted out of this race due to a heavy weight assignment, and returned in Fair Grounds’ New Orleans Ladies Stakes, where she decisively defeated four opponents in a 4 ½-length win. Havre de Grace once again proved her prowess with this victory. Her time of 1:42.79 for the 1 1/16 mile contest was less than four-fifths of a second off Pie in Your Eye’s track record, established in 1994.
Larry Jones shipped the mare to Keeneland for a short stay before sending her to Churchill Downs to prepare for the La Troienne Stakes (G2) under the Twin Spires. Havre de Grace sustained a tendon injury during a workout and subsequently was retired.
Havre de Grace, Oct. 2012