Rick Porter with his filly Havre de Grace.

Rick Porter with his filly Havre de Grace.

Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography

Porter on 'Grace': Time to Take on the Boys

Owner Rick Porter said Havre de Grace is the best horse he's ever owned.

Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farns has made plenty of bold statements in regards to his 4-year-old superstar filly Havre de Grace. One by one, she has proven most of them true.

Time is now ticking to see whether Porter’s confidence in the daughter of Saint Liam to take on the boys in the Sept. 3 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga will translate into a victory.

When Havre de Grace goes to the starting gate of the $750,000 Woodward, it will be easy to conjure up memories of when Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra made history by becoming the first filly to triumph in the race in 2009. But Porter insists following in Rachel’s footsteps is not why he has entered Havre de Grace.

“(Trainer) Larry (Jones) and I talked and looked at her numbers and saw they were improving,” said Porter of Havre de Grace during an Aug. 30 National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference.  “Even though we got beat (by Blind Luck) in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II), we decided it was time to take on the boys.”

Porter added that if trainer Jerry Hollendorfer had decided to enter Blind Luck in the Aug. 28 Personal Ensign (gr. I), Havre de Grace would have instead contested that race for a rematch. The two horses have met a total of six times, with Blind Luck winning three of them, including the July 16 Delaware Handicap by a nose. Havre de Grace has won two of the meetings.

“Havre de Grace and Blind Luck are the best two horses out there—male or female—right now,” said Porter.

Future plans call for Havre de Grace to contest the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs in November, but Porter is still unsure whether he’ll enter the filly in the Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) against Blind Luck, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) against males, or both.

“If we run really well going into the Breeders’ Cup, then we may enter both races to see what post positions we get,” he said.

“Obviously, we think we have a chance to be Horse of the Year,” Porter added boldly of Havre de Grace, a three-time graded stakes winner this year with her biggest score coming in the April 15 Apple Blossom Invitational (gr. I). “After we got beat in the Delaware Handicap, we knew we had to something aggressive to get everyone’s attention.

“We’re just taking this horse one step at a time...we’d like to make history for Havre de Grace and let her go on and possibly be in the same league as Zenyatta by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Porter noted how Jones is equally confident in Havre de Grace’s abilities.

“Larry thinks she’s the best horse he’s ever trained, and he’s had a lot of good horses for me,” said Porter, who has teamed with Jones to campaign other such greats as champion sprinter Kodiak Kowboy, grade I winner Hard Spun , and the ill-fated super filly Eight Belles. “(Havre de Grace) has the best numbers and has been the most consistent of any horse I’ve ever owned.”

Porter believes Havre de Grace’s two biggest threats in the Woodward are Mambo Meister and Flat Out .

Mambo Meister, a son of King Cugat, is a two-time stakes winner this year, including an eye catching 11-length score in the July 24 Primal Stakes at Calder Race Course. Flat Out, a son of Flatter , was second in the Aug. 6 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) and notched a convincing, 6 1/2-length win in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park July 2.

“If I could eliminate two horses from the field, it would be them,” Porter quipped.

In spite of the stiff competition, however, Porter is convinced Havre de Grace’s jockey Ramon Dominguez will get the job done. “There will be plenty of speed in the race with horses like Mambo Meister and Mission Impazible …but Ramon will know how fast they’re going and how far to lay off the pace,” he said. 

Porter and Jones are considering either the Oct. 1 Beldame Invitational (gr. I) at Belmont Park or the Oct. 9 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland for Havre de Grace’s final Breeders’ Cup prep.

“Larry is talking about going to Keeneland, but I'm going to try and talk him out of training on synthetic (surface),” said Porter of the facility’s Polytrack. "But if Larry wants to go to Keeneland, I guess we'll do it."

Havre de Grace, who most recently worked three furlongs in :35 3/5 at Delaware Park Aug. 30, was bred in Kentucky by Nancy Dillman and was a $380,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase.