With her patented stalk and pounce yesterday in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Woodward Stakes, Havre de Grace showed the world once again that in thoroughbred horse racing these days, it’s a girl's world. In joining Rachel Alexandra as only the second female ever to win the historic race, she rose to the head of the class of American racing. While there are plenty of big races still to come in 2011, there should be little doubt that to this point she has been the most consistently excellent in the nation. There was a time when proclaiming a female horse as the best in the nation, or in the world, would have been unusual, but not anymore.
Distaff stars like Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Goldikova, Zarkava, Black Caviar, Makybe Diva, Rags to Riches, Vodka, and now Havre de Grace have turned the best races in the world open to the males into their own personal playgrounds. And now we may be on the verge of a third consecutive female winner of America’s Horse of the Year.
With the win in the $750,000 race, the 4-year-old daughter of Saint Liam won for the fourth time in five starts this year; the only loss coming in the Delaware Handicap when she was nosed out by arch rival Blind Luck in the sixth edition of their thrilling match-ups. The Woodward represented a step up though, as neither of the outstanding rivals had ever before tested their talents against the boys.
Made a 2-1 favorite by a crowd of more than 24,000, Havre de Grace found a comfortable stalking position on the outside as Rule carried the field through an opening quarter-mile in 23.93 seconds. Angled toward the inside as the half went in 48.09, Havre de Grace moved into contention approaching the far turn before making her presence felt under confident handling by rider Ramon Dominguez as the field turned for home. Rule fought on stubbornly, but was no match for Havre de Grace as she powered to the lead with 200 yards to go and then had plenty left to hold off second choice Flat Out. At the wire she was 1 ¼ lengths clear in a solid time of 1:49.18.
With two months before the Breeders’ Cup, the Horse of the Year may now well be hers to win. Trainer Larry Jones and owner Rick Porter said the likely next spot for Havre de Grace was the Grade 1, $350,000 Beldame at Belmont Park on October 1, followed by a start in either the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic or the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.
“Our next race will be against the girls because we don’t want to knock her out before the Breeders’ Cup,” said Jones. “And then, who knows? Believe me, we’re considering both [the Ladies’ Classic and the Classic].”
I wonder if Jerry Hollendorfer, watching back in California, found new found confidence in running his star filly, Blind Luck, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. After yesterday, who could deny the chances of either wonderful filly in the big show. After all, as proven again in the Woodward, it’s a girl's world.