Standout filly Havre de Grace put herself squarely in the picture for Horse of the Year honors with a gutsy win in the $750,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) over males at Saratoga Sept. 3 (VIDEO) .
Havre de Grace, asked for run on the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile Woodward, took the lead from pacesetter Rule at the eighth pole and held Flat Out safe in deep stretch under right-handed urging from jockey Ramon Dominguez to post a 1 1/4-length win. The final time was 1:49.18 over a fast track. Havre de Grace was sent off as a slight 2-1 favorite over Flat Out.
A 4-year-old filly trained by Larry Jones for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, Havre de Grace is bidding to become the third consecutive female to win Horse of the Year honors, following Zenyatta in 2010 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Rachel Alexandra, then a 3-year-old, won the Woodward in her final start of the '09 season and the race was widely credited with cinching year-end honors.
"When I saw the pace fractions and she had a clear path, (I knew) it was her race," Jones said after his first Woodward win.
Havre de Grace became just the second female in the 58-year history of the Woodward to win the race. Flat Out finished second, followed by Rule.
“I definitely think we’re in the picture," Jones said of the Horse of the Year chase. "I think we were in the picture before, maybe a low-profile picture, but I think this puts us up there with everyone else. We have to continue on. It’s not over today, by any means.
"We said to ourselves, we were going to put her in a position to earn a championship if she was good enough. By coming here today we gave her the opportunity to move closer to a championship. I think she did it. I think we’re in front of the division.”
A daughter of 2005 Woodward winner Saint Liam, Havre de Grace is out of the Carson City mare Easter Bunnette and was bred in Kentucky by Nancy S. Dillman.
Havre de Grace, who won the Apple Blossom Handicap for her first grade I win at Oaklawn Park in April, was second by a nose to her rival Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) in her most recent start July 16.
“Right now, we’re leaning 75% toward the Beldame," Jones said of the grade I event at Belmont Park Oct. 1. "Our next race will be against the girls because we don’t want to knock her out before the Breeders’ Cup. And then, who knows? Believe me, we’re considering both (the Ladies’ Classic and the Classic).”
In the Woodward, Havre de Grace was a patient fourth for Dominguez on the outside early as the fast-breaking Rule, ridden by Javier Castellano, took the lead into the clubhouse turn along the inside. Mission Impazible and Convocation tracked the leader from about 1 1/2 lengths away. Havre de Grace advanced into third after an easy opening quarter-mile of :23.93 and the half in :48.09. She raced just to the outside of Mission Impazible as Rule clicked off six furlongs in 1:11.95.
Havre de Grace was asked for more near the quarter pole and she smartly ranged up on the outside of a tiring Mission Impazible at the head of the stretch. With Flat Out closing in quickly, Havre de Grace powerfully challenged Rule and came away with a head's advantage just past the furlong marker.
As she drew away from Rule, a driving Flat Out presented the only major obstacle with Alex Solis aboard. But Havre de Grace had his measure in the final furlong, holding steady under good handling from Castellano.
“I felt pretty good at the three-eighths pole when we were coming and I wasn’t seeing anyone making a huge move," Jones said. "I kept telling myself with Flat Out picking up nine pounds from his last race, it had to start telling on him somewhere. About the sixteenth pole he started leveling off and stopped chasing us. We felt pretty good it was going our way.”
Dominguez said Havre de Grace was a little wide on the first turn but he didn't want to give up his position.
"As soon as I got to the backside, Convocation got out of that spot (to her inside)," he said. "She called on herself beautifully. She had a great stride on her, very relaxed. As soon as I started pressing, kind of early, around the three-eighths pole, she just kept coming for me and I really let out.
"I could feel (Flat Out coming) and I could also hear Alex (Solis) kind of encouraging his horse, but she wasn’t really about to give up at all.”
Flat Out finished well and was 1 1/2 lengths clear of Rule for second.
“He was still trying,” said Charles “Scooter” Dickey, trainer of the runner-up. “That was a good (filly). She beat us. We’re going forward. He was kicking in; I was hoping he’d run. I thought she was the horse to beat all along.”
There was little improvement from the closers as Mission Impazible finished fourth. He was followed by Giant Oak, Ice Box , Mambo Meister, and Convocation in the field of eight.
This was the first start for Havre de Grace against males in her 13-race career. The $380,000 Keeneland September Yearling purchase in 2008 has won seven times with four seconds in two thirds. The victory, worth $450,000, boosted her earnings to $1,986,175.
“We gave her a chance to show how good she was," Porter said. "She deserved a chance to show it. I think she’s one of the best, but I think between now and the Breeders’ Cup, we’ll find out who’s the best.
“We can’t talk about Tizway or horses on the West Coast, but I think on the East Coast, she just showed she was better than the older males today. Winning the Woodward is not easy, especially with a filly, but she’s a special horse.”
In 2011, the bay filly has won four of five starts including Oaklawn's Azeri Stakes (gr. III) prior to the Apple Blossom. Havre de Grace was third in last fall's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
Carrying 123, the winner received three pounds from the rest of the field and paid $6.50, $3.50, and $2.10. Flat Out returned $3.70 and $2.50, completing the $17 exacta. Rule paid $2.70.