Havre De Grace Set For Breeders

HAVRE DE GRACE SET FOR BREEDERS

The Breeders' Cup may be the year-end defining event of the American turf, crowning a parade of champions, but never in its 28-year history have those champions been so hidden as in this year's running, which gets under way Friday.

With a record 193 entries, a record $25.5 million in prize money and an expanded 15-race program, this Cup starts out with no marquee horse, a couple of short-priced favorites and a sackful of races that almost defy rational handicapping.

The $5 million Classic on Saturday is expected to decide Horse of the Year, but today, no one has the faintest idea what horse that will be. It's the same puzzle in most of the other divisions. In a word, this is a Cup to test the soul of every horseplayer looking for a winner.

Not even the wonder mare Goldikova, trying for an unprecedented fourth Cup victory, can be conceded the prize. She's lost three of her last four races in Europe and even her admirers think she has "lost a step" at the age of 6. Count her vulnerable.

Even Uncle Mo, midway through an amazing and brilliant comeback from illness, has his doubters. He'll never get the Classic's mile and a quarter, they insist.

That leaves just one horse, a filly, who might stand the game and the country on its head.

She's Havre de Grace, who will wind up a stunning year -- five wins in six graded stakes races -- by taking on the toughest bunch of male horses in the country in the Classic. If she beats them, she will not only win Horse of the Year in a common gallop but be enshrined alongside Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra as a contemporary great.

At the barn yesterday, her trainer Larry Jones was optimistic and realistic. "This is a horse race and we can get beat," he said. "She's not going to be 1-to-9 -- and I've had 1-9 shots get beat. But we are legitimate.

"We have had a couple of champions in the past, but this horse is special. Our faith in her is realistic."

And why not? Havre de Grace (pronounced Hava der Grar, according to Jones) climaxed a memorable summer by trouncing males horses in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, then blitzing females by more than eight lengths in the Beldame at Belmont.

Jones and her owner, Rick Porter, set their sights on Horse of the Year way back in the spring. "Everything we have done with her is to put her in position to win Horse of the Year," said Jones. They could have run her in the Ladies' Classic, which would have been a stroll in the park, but opted for the tougher male Classic in search of that elusive title.

Havre is one tough babe. Compare: A hard race in the Woodward ended Rachel Alexandra's career. A hard race in the Delaware Handicap in July ended the extraordinary Blind Luck's career.

Havre had to run the fastest race of her life, hitting a 111 Beyer speed fig, to win her Woodward, but instead of getting tuckered out, she came right back to demolish the Beldame. Now she's primed to climb the Classic mountain with her usual jockey Ramon Dominguez on board.

"I think a mile and an eighth is her best distance," Jones admitted. "She got beat by legitimate horses in her two losing races at a mile and a quarter but she'll handle the trip here. She can run all day."

Jones will give Havre de Grace her final breeze this morning. "She's feeling better than ever," he said. "She's on her toes. She's ready to give a huge performance."

If she delivers, she'll be the toast of the 50 states Saturday night.

by Ray Kerrison
from nypost.com

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