The Brock Talk

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Horse of the Year Defense Starts Early for Havre de Grace

It will be very easy to cheer for 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace (photo right) this year. After all, owner Rick Porter and trainer Larry Jones are the popular sort with fans who are beginning to especially appreciate those keeping their equine stars around the track a bit longer. For that reason alone, there will be just a few more cheering on those red and white silks of Fox Hill Farms worn by jockey Gabriel Saez aboard Havre de Grace in 2012.

Havre de Grace may also pick up some fans from her rival, the recently retired Blind Luck. Why would a fan begrudge Blind Luck for retiring earlier than Havre de Grace? No matter the reason for her retirement, Blind Luck was an equine version of Winston Wolfe. She was the sort who would take the call, write down the address and then travel anywhere, anytime and take care of business.

One may also assume any further accolades accomplished by Havre de Grace on the track, really just add to the racing legacy of Blind Luck. Point being, Havre de Grace should have plenty of fans this year. But from the looks of things early this year, while training well at Oaklawn Park, Havre de will not have a monopoly on popularity among racing fans.

The Florida Sunshine Millions gave affirmation to fans of Mucho Macho Man as he won the $400,000 Sunshine Millions Classic and Awesome Feather, winner of the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff.

Mucho Macho Man continues his wave of acclaim that started during his 3-year-old old season. The Kathy Ritvo-trainee joined only Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness (gr. 1) winner Shackleford as the only three horses to start in every Triple Crown race last year. The Florida-bred son of Macho Uno was third in the Derby but disappointed with off-the-board finishes in the Preakness and Belmont.

Mucho Macho Man was given a break after the Belmont but returned with vigor easily winning an allowance race at Aqueduct in November before making his 2012 debut in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

Awesome Feather also returned to the races in New York last Fall after tendon injuries sidelined her for most of her sophomore year. After an undefeated and championship season as a 2-year-old, Awesome Feather came back from her lay-off last year and won the Le Slew Stakes at Belmont in October and the Gazelle Stakes (gr. 1) at Aqueduct in November. Although many of her wins have come against fellow Florida-breds, Awesome Feather has had little trouble when stepping up to open, grade I races. And as long as she keeps that race record unblemished, her fame will continue to grow along with the streak.

Few horses in North America carry the esteem of a Kentucky Derby winner, and it seems all systems are go for Animal Kingdom’s return in 2012. After his sixth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) won by Ruler on Ice last year, a hairline fracture in the left hock of Animal Kingdom was discovered and ended his year. But the now 4-year-old son of Leroidesanimaux has been doing well for trainer Graham Motion who saw Animal Kingdom put in a bullet work Jan. 25 at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, going five furlongs on grass in :59 4/5.

According to reports, owner Team Valor International manager Barry Irwin says Animal Kingdom is scheduled to race again in the grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes Feb. 25. Irwin said the 1-1/16 mile race on the Tampa Bay Downs turf will act as preparation for the $10 million, group 1 Dubai World Cup Mar. 31 at Meydan Race Course in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Shackleford (photo left) is also working toward his return to the races at Palm Meadows for trainer Dale Romans who says the Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 11. Last seen finishing second to Caleb’s Posse in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, Shackleford also had runner-up finishes last year in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Haskell Invitational (gr. I) and Indiana Derby (gr. 2). His “catch me if you can” running style also keeps Shackleford popular among his fans.

Don’t under estimate Game On Dude and his fans either. The runner-up to Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) and winner of the two Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) also has jockey Chantal Sutherland and trainer Bob Baffert on her team. Both world-class in their trades, they are equally charismatic and media savey.

And then of course there is the possibility of an ultra popular 3-year-old. It has been since Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown in 2008 when we last saw a horse go to the Belmont Stakes for a chance at the Triple Crown and since Affirmed in 1978 when had our last Triple Crown winner. Big Brown was pulled up and finished last in the Belmont Stakes, but as chronicled many times on this blog, not since Big Brown won the 2008 Monmouth Stakes have seen a Kentucky Derby champ even win a subsequent race.

Horse racing is not only due for a popular and post Kentucky Derby successful 3-year-old, but 33 years is long enough to wait for a Triple Crown winner too.

Yes Havre de Grace, unless she repeats as Horse of the Year in 2012, will probably go down in Thoroughbred history as the difficult part of the answer to a trivia question. No doubt her 2011 can not compare to Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta before her.

Looking at some of the horses that are expected to compete in for the 2012 golden Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, things are not going to be any easier for Havre de Grace this year. After all, we now know that Jones and Porter are not afraid to take their champion mare and run against older horses at the highest of levels.

Any way one looks at it however, the race for 2012 Horse of the Year is already interesting. And we have barely started.

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