Rick Porter and Larry Jones have made it no secret that they want to take a shot at the Horse of the Year award with Havre de Grace. The superstar filly would take a large step toward that lofty goal if she can defeat males in the $750,000 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 3 at Saratoga.
The 1 1/8-mile Woodward will be the first time in her career that Havre de Grace does battle with the boys. The Saint Liam filly figures to have a pretty good shot, as she faces a solid but beatable eight-horse field that includes two other grade I winners. Post time on a loaded Saratoga card that also features the Forego (gr. I) and Personal Ensign Invitational (gr. I) is set for 5:45 p.m. EDT.
Havre de Grace arrived at Saratoga Race Course shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“We had a very uneventful trip,” said Jones. “It was good coming through New York at this time of day. She’s come in good.”
Jones, who personally drove Havre de Grace to the Spa from his base at Delaware Park, led the filly off the van, and let her stretch her legs a bit before going to her stall. Stabled on the main track backstretch, Jones said Havre de Grace would jog after the break on Thursday and might gallop Friday.
“We had to alter her training this week due to dear old (Hurricane) Irene,” said Jones. “She didn’t get her customary Monday blowout where she gets to ripping and romping and doing her :57s. We had to gallop that day and were lucky to find a place to gallop. She did have a little blowout yesterday, galloped out well and seems very good this morning. We’re going to hope it’s the way we should have been training her.”
Havre de Grace, who runs in the name of Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, is a nose away from being undefeated in four starts in 2011. She won the Azeri (gr. III) and Apple Blossom Invitational (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park, and rolled in the Obeah (gr. III) at Delaware Park. In the July 16 Delaware Handicap (gr. II), the bay filly was caught at the wire by Blind Luck as the 7-10 favorite in one of the most thrilling races of the year.
The 4-year-old filly has never been off the board in 12 lifetime starts while earning more than $1.5 million. Porter has said he would like to run her next in either the Oct. 1 Beldame Invitational (gr. I) at Belmont Park or Oct. 9 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland, with the main goal being the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
“Obviously, we think we have a chance to be Horse of the Year,” said Porter. “And after we got beat a nose in the Del ‘Cap, we thought we had to do something aggressive, either run against Blind Luck again in the Personal Ensign (or) take the boys on. We had to do something to get everybody’s attention, hopefully.”
Ramon Dominguez will have the mount on Havre de Grace, who will break from post 6 and receive a three-pound weight break from her male counterparts. The 8-5 morning-live favorite, she will try to become just the second female to win the Woodward. Rachel Alexandra accomplished the feat in 2009 en route to winning Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old.
The other grade I winners in the field are Giant Oak and Ice Box. Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak is seeking his first win since scoring consecutive grade I victories in the Nov. 26 Clark Handicap at Churchill and Feb. 5 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. The 5-year-old Giant's Causeway horse has lost his last three, but came with his usual late stretch move in the Aug. 8 Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) to finish a solid third.
Giant Oak, an earner of nearly $1.4 million, has remained at Saratoga since his Whitney try and has worked twice for trainer Chris Block. Regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan will have the call.
Robert Lapenta’s Ice Box came off the sidelines to finish third in a 1 1/8-mile optional claimer July 29 at Saratoga in his first race since October. The Nick Zito trainee is winless since taking the Florida Derby (gr. I) six starts ago. Jose Lezcano will ride the 4-year-old Pulpit colt.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won two of the last four Woodward’s including last year with Quality Road, will have two more chances this time around. He will send out Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Mission Impazible and WinStar Farm’s Rule.
Mission Impazible was a disappointing sixth in the Whitney most recently, one start after missing the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) by a neck. John Velazquez will take over riding duties for Javier Castellano, who will keep the mount on Rule.
Rule enters off a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Birdstone Stakes Aug. 8 at Saratoga, his first win after six consecutive defeats. The Roman Ruler colt is a consistent 3-4-2 from 12 lifetime starts with earnings of more than $900,000.
Another major contender is Preston Stables’ Flat Out, who ran a good second in the Whitney one start after romping by 6 1/2 lengths in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II). The 5-year-old son of Flatter breezed a bullet five furlongs in :57 1/5 Aug. 18 at Monmouth Park and seems primed for another big effort for trainer Scooter Dickey. He is listed as the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
“He’s sound and it’s a good feeling to know he’s doing well,” said Dickey.
Completing the lineup is Convocation, the fourth-place finisher of last year’s Woodward who enters off a convincing optional claiming win July 29 at Saratoga at the distance, and Mambo Meister, a 6-year-old gelding making his 38th start.
$750,000 Woodward (gr. I, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds 1. Ice Box (KY), J Lezcano, 126, N P Zito, 12-1
2. Mission Impazible (KY), J R Velazquez, 126, T A Pletcher, 10-1
3. Giant Oak (IL), S Bridgmohan, 126, C M Block, 8-1
4. Rule (KY), J Castellano, 126, T A Pletcher, 5-1
5. Convocation (KY), R Maragh, 126, J A Jerkens, 20-1
6. Havre de Grace (KY), R A Dominguez, 123, J L Jones, 8-5
7. Flat Out (FL), A O Solis, 126, C L Dickey, 5-2
8. Mambo Meister (KY), F Jara, 126, P A Gleaves, 10-1