Photo: Lou Hodges Photography
The connections of Havre de Grace have come under a lot of heat the past few days since the news came in that the defending Horse of the Year would not run in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom on Friday due to unfavorable weight assignments. While I will not argue with anyone who is less than pleased with the decision, I would like to offer the possibility that there is more to this story than owner Rick Porter and trainer Larry Jones being poor sportsmen.
Last summer I wrote a blog entitled, A Weighty Issue in the Delaware Handicap, in which I questioned the racing secretary of Delaware Park as to why Havre de Grace was giving the defending 3yo filly champion, Blind Luck two pounds in the Delaware Handicap. Now I realize two pounds is not much, but then again, neither was the margin of victory for Blind Luck in the big race, as it turned out. Why was that weight decision made? I believe it to have been nothing short of racing secretary Pat Pope pandering to Blind Luck’s trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer. He threatened if the weights weren’t right, Blind Luck would not make the trip. Pope obliged, and Delaware got the marquee match-up. At the time I thought Pope was setting a very dangerous precedent. Now I’m sure of it.
Flash forward nine months later, and the simple answer as to why Oaklawn Park will not be able to showcase Havre de Grace in the Apple Blossom can be found in a blog on the Fox Hill Farm website. Rick Porter says, “Larry and I really wanted to defend our title in the Apple Blossom. We were expecting fair weights and when they were released today, Larry called me and we were flabbergasted at the weights. Plum Pretty was the most unexpected but a lot of them were very unfair.”
Seems pretty simple, if not rather lame … The Horse of the Year will not run because she has to give six pounds to last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, Plum Pretty. But alas, nothing in life is that simple.
Porter went on to say, “We love the competition. Havre de Grace took on Blind Luck six times and ran against the boys in the prestigious Woodward and we didn’t bat an eye at running in the granddaddy of them all, the Classic.”
It occurs to me that what Porter saying is true. Havre de Grace has not made a career by ducking anyone. Her connections have continually placed her against the top possible competition. That is, until now. There must be more to this decision.
Porter continued, “We have decided one thing though, we will take on any horse and take our defeats when we get them but we won’t let the racing secretaries decide who is going to win the races.”
Now we are getting somewhere. Guess who the racing secretary at Oaklawn Park is? None other than Pat Pope, the same man who made the questionable weight assignments in last year’s Delaware Handicap.
Porter goes on to call out Pope by name a few times later in the blog entry, with no real attempt to mask his distaste for the man’s skill at assigning weights.
I am left to conclude one thing from all of this. Havre de Grace’s connections are not ducking anyone in the Apple Blossom. Nor are they skipping Oaklawn’s big race because she has to give Plum Pretty six pounds. Rather it’s a case of them being upset with a racing secretary pandering to their rival last summer at Delaware Park, and then not returning the favor this spring in the Apple Blossom.
In this case, two wrongs result in only one thing ... nothing but disappointment for the racing fans at Oaklawn Park.