Havre de Grace: A Perfect Blend of Natural Talent and Intelligence

Havre de Grace while stabled at Keeneland Race Course in October 2011. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Havre de Grace possessed talent in such abundance she brought Larry Jones out of retirement to train her in 2011.

She had shown ability at 3, finishing third to Unrivaled Belle and Blind Luck in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (initially referred to as the Distaff and now back to that name). But owner Rick Porter thought there was more to be tapped, and that Jones was the best person to get to the bottom of her.

He was not wrong.

As Porter said of Jones’ role in the filly’s emergence, “He made her special.”

Havre de Grace (Eclipse Sportswire)

Jones vividly recalls the day the daughter of 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam arrived at Oaklawn Park. After examining her from head to toe, he told members of his staff and anyone else who would listen, “This horse here has just got everything.”

With the passage of time, Havre de Grace never lost her luster to Jones.

“She was probably the nearest thing to a perfect horse that I’m ever going to be able to touch,” he said. “She basically had no issues.”

The filly’s mind impressed Jones as much as anything. She was always comfortable in her own skin, even when shipped to faraway venues for major races. Nothing seemed to faze her.

“Her attitude was as much about her wonderfulness as anything,” Jones said. “She just did things right for us. She made herself at home wherever her feed tub and water bucket was.”

Havre de Grace enjoyed an auspicious opening to her 4-year-old campaign when she rattled off three victories in succession. She defeated rival Blind Luck in the 2011 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn and added another victory there in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap.

Owner Rick Porter feed Havre de Grace a peppermint. (Eclipse Sportswire)

She moved on to Delaware Park, Porter’s home track. She prepped for the Delaware Handicap by winning the Grade 3 Obeah Stakes, only to have Blind Luck turn the tables by beating her by a nose in the Delaware Handicap.

That led to a pivotal decision by Porter. He thought Havre de Grace could still emerge as Horse of the Year, but he knew it would take a bold stroke for that to happen.

Rachel Alexandra had become the first filly to defeat males in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga Race Course only two years before and used that as a springboard to Horse of the Year honors. Perhaps Havre de Grace could follow that lead?

Porter kept turning over that idea in his mind. He began analyzing how she compared with the top males in the country. From every angle, he liked what he saw.

“It was getting toward the end of her career. I just compared the numbers,” said Porter, who died in June 2021 after a long battle with cancer. “She was at the top of her game. I just said, ‘We’re going to run her in [the Woodward],’ and she ran beautifully.”

She defeated Flat Out by a length and a quarter. That outcome surely resonated with Horse of the Year voters. So did her 8 ¼-length walk in the park against classy Royal Delta in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational.

Havre de Grace winning Woodward. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Porter was so encouraged by the Woodward that he opted to test males again in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Havre de Grace acquitted herself well, but ran fourth to victorious Drosselmeyer.

Still, she had done enough to easily take home Horse of the Year honors. She received 166 first-place votes to 26 first-place votes for runner-up Acclamation, the Pacific Classic victor.

Havre de Grace closed her career with nine victories in 16 starts. She ran second four times and third on two other occasions in earning $2,586,175.

In accepting Horse of the Year recognition for Havre de Grace, Porter noted her ability to deliver at critical times. “She did it her way,” he said. “She won the big races when it counted.”  

Note: This story was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.

Fun Facts

  • Foaled May 12, 2007
  • Named after city in Harford County, Md.
  • Was third consecutive filly or mare to be named Horse of the Year, following Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta
  • Delivered first foal, a filly by Tapit, on Feb. 7, 2014. Filly was named Heavenly Grace
  • Heavenly Grace was unable to win at 2 or 3 but broke through at 4, when she was victorious on May 27, 2018 in her fourth career start
  • Havre de Grace's third foal is Grade 3 winner Graceful Princess, by Tapit
  • Havre de Grace sold for $10 million at the Fasig-Tipton November sale after her racing career was over

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