Havre de Grace wins $500,000 Apple Blossom
Larry Jones knew he had something special in Havre de Grace when he came out of retirement.
The 4-year-old mare proved her new trainer correct for the second time in as many races on Friday.
Using a furious closing kick, Havre de Grace overcame a four-length deficit in the final 1/16 of a mile to track down Switch and win the $500,000 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. It was her first Grade 1 victory and second win in as many starts this year, following the Grade 3 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn last month.
''I'm just glad that she ran up to her ability and the way that she trains,'' Jones said. ''This is a very top quality mare, and when we got her into the barn we realized this mare could be something special.
''She's living up to what she told us she'd be.''
Jones, who previously trained Grade 1 winners such as Kodiak Kowboy, Hard Spun and Island Sand, trained Eight Belles to a second-place finish in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Eight Belles suffered a catastrophic injury during that race, and it wasn't long after that Jones announced his retirement.
Jones returned late last year and took over the training of Havre de Grace in January after having competed against the mare previously.
''Now you know why I came out of retirement,'' Jones joked.
Havre de Grace was slow out of the gate on Friday, falling behind early leader Absinthe Minded and holding steady in the fourth position in the five-horse field after a quarter-mile. Absinthe Minded led throughout the first mile before Switch began to rein her in and finally took the lead near the start of the home stretch.
Switch, who nearly held off Zenyatta at the Grade 1 Lady Secret Stakes in October before finishing second, appeared to be in control with 1/16 of a mile left. However, Havre de Grace closed with a fury - sprinting the last 1/16 in 5.94 seconds and pulling ahead of Switch in the final moments for the 3/4-length win in 1:42.19.
''She ran awesome today,'' jockey Ramon Dominguez said. ''Coming up to the 3/8ths pole, they got away from me a little more than I was expecting, but I didn't panic because I know how good she is.
''My filly accelerated great down the stretch, and she made an amazing run. There is no telling how good this filly really is. It was very exciting.''
Havre de Grace paid $3, $2.20 and $2.10. Switch paid $3 and $2.10 for second, while Absinthe Minded paid $2.60 for her third-place finish.
''She was able to catch the one horse, but she just couldn't hold off the winner,'' Switch jockey Joel Rosario said.
Jones said the primary goal moving forward for Havre de Grace was the Breeder's Cup, and he guessed owner Rick Porter would want to enter the $750,000 Delaware Handicap.
''Those are the two major objectives, but we're not going to gut her trying to race her every month or every three weeks,'' Jones said. ''We'll just try to treat her like the champion we think she's going to be.
''You can't sow it up in April, but we think we've got the leading candidate to have the champion mare, and we're going to treat her as such.''