Reigning Horse of the Year Havre de Grace closed out her New Orleans winter vacation with a five-furlong workout April 1 and is being prepared to ship to Oaklawn Park, trainer Larry Jones reported.
Havre de Grace is scheduled to arrive at Oaklawn April 2, where she is expected to defend her title in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 13.
The Fox Hill Farm's 5-year-old breezed five furlongs in 1:02 2/5 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Her connections will await word on her weight assignment in the 1 1/16th-mile race before committing to the race. Havre de Grace won the Apple Blossom comfortably by 1 ¾ lengths last year.
"The work was good and about halfway up the worktab in terms of how fast it was," said Jones. "The main thing was letting her stretch her legs before putting her on the van for the ride up there."
Her clocking was the 13th fastest of 26 at that distance.
Havre de Grace won last year's race carrying equal high weight of 119 pounds, which she shared with runner-up Switch, in what was her second start of the year. She defeated rival Blind Luck in her seasonal debut in Oaklawn’s Azeri Stakes (gr. III) before following 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta by winning the Apple Blossom.
"I know she's going to be the top-weight. She better be the top-weight. She's earned it," said Jones. "We just don't want to take a pounding in the weights and we want the spread to be fair."
Jones said the situation is not the same as when Havre de Grace was assigned two more pounds that Blind Luck in last year's Delaware Handicap (gr. II) and lost a thrilling stretch duel to her rival by a nose. He noted the sporting history of Oaklawn president Charles Cella.
"I'm sure it will work out because I know Mr. Cella understands these things," he said. "I was in there against Zenyatta when Mr. Cella did all he could to get her to come to the Apple Blossom. He changed the distance for her and that was something that helped get her there. Now, I'm not saying we're Zenyatta or that we deserve that, but Oaklawn is a place that wants to see horses like her run and I think that's going to help us get a fair shake."
Havre de Grace bounced back from the Delaware loss, going on to defeat males in the Woodward (gr. I) and females in the Beldame (gr. I) in New York. The daughter of Saint Liam finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs and was awarded Horse of the Year honors in January.
Nominations for the Apple Blossom closed March 31 and will be released April 4. The racing office will announce the weights April 7. Others expected to be nominated are last year's Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Plum Pretty, two-time Oaklawn stakes winner Absinthe Minded, this year's Azeri winner Tiz Miz Sue, and grade I winner It's Tricky.