The Brock Talk

Friday, September 2, 2011

Havreing Horse of the Year Aspirations

Trainer Larry Jones is quite forthcoming about the motivation behind entering Havre de Grace in Saturday’s grade 1 Woodward Stakes against the boys. “We’re trying to do something to move her closer to a championship,” Jones told the Saratoga media department. “If she does beat the boys, it puts us back in front of the pack [among older fillies and mares] and into the hunt for Horse of the Year. But we have a lot to do before the end of the year.”

That work begins in the $750,000, nine furlong Woodward, a race established in 1954 and won by only one female. “I don’t usually keep up with those kinds of things,” Jones said when asked about the history of fillies versus colts and geldings in the Woodward. “But I do remember what other filly [won the Woodward] though, I was up here [at Saratoga] and watched it,” referring to Rachel Alexandra winning the 2009 Woodward.

To further illustrate how unique it is for a filly or mare to defeat males in a major race in the Summer or Fall, consider that only five fillies or mares have won Saratoga’s other grade 1 route race on dirt, the Whitney Handicap, in the 82-year history of that race. Black Marie and the great daughter of Man o’ War, Bateau, won the first two Whitneys in 1928 and ‘29 respectively while Gallorette won the 1948 version. Two of the great mares of their generation, Lady’s Secret (’86) and Personal Ensign (’88) were also Whitney winners.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), run since 1919, has been won by only two females; Shuvee won the Gold Cup twice in 1970 and’71; and My Play won in 1924.

Further West, only three fillies have won the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I): Happy Issue (1944), Two Lea (’52) and Princessnesian (’68) and no fillies or mares have won the Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar nor the Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita. For all of her greatness, Zenyatta only defeated the males once. That came on the West coast when she became the only filly or mare to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr.I).

Should Havre de Grace make the run for Horse of the Year that Jones and owner Rick Porter are publicly hoping for, the Woodward may be just the first step, but it would at least be instant justification for the title. By no means does that mean a Woodward victory would solidify the Horse of the Year honor, but would very much qualify her for the discussion.

At this point, if Havre de Grace has any hope for Horse of the Year, a Woodward victory would help, but not guarantee. Remember Havre de Grace lost to nemisis Blind Luck by a nose in their last match-up in the Delaware Handicap (gr. I). It may come down to a possible match between the two at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup the first week of November assuming Blind Luck also wins her next race which may be the Lady’s Secret (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 1.

Despite the last loss to Blind Luck, some may still debate that Havre de Grace has a better resume thus far in 2011. In three other starts this year, the daughter of 2005 Horse of the Year St. Liam has won the grade 3 Azeri and grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park; and the Obeah (gr. III) at Delaware Park. Blind Luck started the year with three seconds, including one to Havre de Grace in the Azeri, before winning the grade II La Troienne at Churchill and the grade I Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park before the matchup in Delaware.

When debating Horse of the Year, it is also important not to forget Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Travers winner Stay Thirsty, Preakness winner Shackleford, not to mention the upcoming winners of the Woodward (assuming Havre de Grace does not win), Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita and of course, the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

No doubt there are plenty of barriers between Havre de Grace and the Horse of the Year title. The most immediate of which are three colts, two horses and a gelding that will be waiting for Havre de Grace in the Saratoga paddock just prior to the Woodward. Those seven are also in a position to keep the 4-year-old filly from joining the list of legendary females that includes Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Personal Ensign, Lady’s Secret and the like by keeping her out of the winner’s circle following the Woodward.

However bold or bragadocious it may be to set a goal on Labor Day weekend for Horse of the Year on Labor Day weekend, the point remains it is realistic.

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