For owner Rick Porter and trainer Larry Jones, Plan A is to run Horse of the Year Havre de Grace in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 13. However, the connections have also made one thing clear: They will only do so under the right weight conditions.
If Porter and Jones feel as though Oaklawn Park assigns Havre de Grace too much weight in the Apple Blossom, or even the $350,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) against males April 14, they are prepared to go ahead with Plan B, which could involve running her somewhere else or even waiting for the $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) May 28 at Belmont Park. Jones was especially outspoken about the subject March 20.
“The Apple Blossom is still the most likely option, but we’re not going to be stupid about it. We’re not going to be spotting good horses a whole lot of weight,” Jones said. “Last year we felt like we were unfairly dealt with in the Delaware Handicap (carrying 124 pounds). I did not see how a horse who won a grade I in California (Blind Luck, 122 pounds) and a horse that won a grade I in New York (Life At Ten, 117 pounds), how in the world we had to pack more weight than them. It wasn’t right. We’re not going to let that happen again.
“The only reason we did it is because Rick has always wanted to win (the Delaware Handicap) and he accepted the challenge. But he and I have come to terms with that. We’re not going to let that happen to again.
“Look, we know we’re going to have to carry more weight than most horses in the country. We understand that. But I’m also not fixing to give a multiple grade I winner a lot of weight just because we have an Eclipse Award that was done off of votes and doesn’t take into account what happened on the racetrack. I’m not going to spot a lot of weight to a horse that has as many grade Is as we have.
“We could look at the Oaklawn Handicap, but then again, it’s a handicap too. So if we don’t like the weight we’re carrying against the boys we don’t have to run her at all. We always have other options.”
Havre de Grace won the 2011 Apple Blossom while carrying 119 pounds. That was her first of three grade I victories. In her season debut last weeekend at Fair Grounds, the daughter of Saint Liam easily defeated an overmatched field in the $150,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes.
Jones said he and Porter are not opposed to finding another race for Havre de Grace in a different part of the country, even in California, which is where the Breeders’ Cup will be held this year. For his part, Porter said he is hopeful the weights in the Apple Blossom will be fair, but is also not going to commit to the race just because it’s the right fit on the calendar.
“We’re going to have to give them some weight, I know that,” Porter said. “But to use Plum Pretty as an example, I was talking to Bob Baffert in Ocala the other day and he said ‘I’ll see you in the Apple Blossom and I’ll be getting at least 10 pounds.’ I said, ‘Bob, I hope you enjoy the 10 pounds because you’re not getting it from us.’