Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ode To Grace

What is Havre De Grace to this writer, this fan? I believe at this point this filly is pretty much the center of my racing world, and with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic she will be a landslide winner of Horse of the Year and the most talked about horse in training and possibly reach status that only the Black Caviers, Golidkovas, Rachel Alexandras, and Zenyattas were able to achieve.  Let’s go back just a bit to get an understanding of the importance that Havre De Grace, we’ll call her Gracie, has had on the game of horse racing as a whole in 2011, on the lives of her connections and fans also.
2010 was a very good year for the filly, stepping into a rivalry with Blind Luck the talented little filly from California started a following of this rivalry that we’ve never seen before, why you might ask.  Mostly because we’ve not seen a rivalry of this nature actually takes place on the track here in the United States.  Tackling Blind Luck 4 times in 2010, Gracie lost to Blind Luck twice and beat her once, and both lost the Ladies Classic to Unrivaled Belle at Churchill Downs.  Being totally honest about things, although I followed her races in 2010, it wasn’t until the news that she was being turned over to Larry Jones and headed to my home track Oaklawn that I really took notice of the filly.  After being given ample time to rest and recharge her batteries after her sophomore season, Havre De Grace started her training at Oaklawn in the most bizarre of fashions. You could say very lazily.  Her 4 furlong work over the Oaklawn course was slow, quite slow, how slow you might ask, slow enough that Jones worked her again 4 days later.  This is the type of training that makes Larry Jones stand out as a true horseman; he doesn’t plug in numbers into a database or spreadsheet to get an indication as to when a horse should work.  He looked at how Gracie got nothing at all out of the slow breeze and decided they would not wait another 6  days.  This type of thinking is impressive and not seen nowadays, this trainer was going to make sure that his horse was fit going into her prep, even if that meant asking a bit more than what was normal.  The rest as they say is history.  6 starts later, 5 wins-3 in Grade 1 races and we are looking at the completion of one of the great campaigns by a filly or mare.
The statement that Gracie had a great deal to do with reviving a year of racing that to many was going to fail miserably when compared to the past few years is an understatement.   The outlook was bleak as the defending Horse of the Year and 2009 Horse of the years both fillies or mares were retired in 2010. That left a weak handicap division and still developing 3 year olds with much potential but with very little ability to bring attention to the sport other than the Triple Crown.  With the departure of Uncle Mo from the Triple Crown trail that left two horses that would battle it out for supremacy.  And in the end the best horse, the horse that was giving time to rest in the correct manner, and the horse that was campaigned as a champion in Gracie is still thriving.
For me personally, Gracie has meant everything and the fact that I have been privileged to enter the winner’s Circle for both of her victories at Oaklawn meant the world to me.  It was amazing to be close to her like that, to be in the presence of greatness.  Now don’t get me wrong it would take quite the filly, no quite the horse to tear me away from the love of the Greatest filly I’ve every seen in person in Rachel Alexandra. But Havre De Grace is certainly knocking on the door of that type of greatness.  
As I get ready to embark on my trip to the Breeders Cup in Louisville in a few hours, I think back to the many wonderful memories of 2011 and what a spectacular year this has been, and I look forward to 2012 with anticipation.  First things first though, there is some unfinished business that must be attended to by many of my favorites this weekend, but none more than the Super Star Filly, Havre De Grace.  I want to thank her owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm for allowing us to fall in love with this filly and even more so for campaigning her in a way that will allow her to show her greatness and class to the world.