Havre de Grace wins Horse of the Year
Filly Havre de Grace brought Larry Jones and Rick Porter back together in 2011, reuniting a trainer and owner who had endured tragedy three years earlier when filly Eight Belles fatally broke down after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby.
Havre de Grace restored fun to racing again for the duo after Jones had retired in 2010, forcing Porter to find another trainer. He lured Jones back to the business full-time by showing him the filly with the hard-to-pronounce name that honors a city in Maryland.
She had them celebrating Monday night when Havre de Grace won Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards, becoming the third consecutive female to receive the honor in a year that lacked a superstar in thoroughbred racing.
''As many of you know, I've seen the lowest of lows in horse racing and I've seen a lot of highs, but nothing rivals Havre de Grace,'' Porter told the audience at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. ''She did it her way. She won the big races when it counted.''
Havre de Grace joined Zenyatta in 2010 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009 — two horses that captured the general public's interest and imagination — as one of six females to earn the sport's top award. She received 166 first-place votes and 1,897 total points in balloting by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters.
''It's some kind of thrill to win this award that I only dreamed of maybe 10, 15 years ago,'' Porter told the crowd.
''She's the most deserving horse. She had the most memorable campaign and accounted for the most excitement at the top level of the sport throughout the year.''
Pacific Classic winner Acclamation finished second with 26 first-place votes and 552 points. Ireland-bred Cape Blanco was third with nine first-place votes and 325 points. BC Classic runner-up Game On Dude wasn't among the three finalists, but earned 10 first-place votes.
Havre de Grace won the Woodward against male horses last year, then challenged them again and finished fourth in the BC Classic.
''It didn't go our way, but we never looked back and said it was a mistake,'' Jones said. ''She didn't duck anybody.''
Earlier last year, she won the Apple Blossom Handicap and the Beldame, two of her three Grade 1 stakes wins.
''She did everything Larry and I asked of her and then some,'' Porter said, accepting her honor for older female. ''She's an owner's dream come true. She's made racing for me and many others so thrilling. She is the best.''
Havre de Grace is ridden by Ramon Dominguez, who earned jockey of the year. She's in training at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas in preparation for a 4-year-old campaign.
''She's a racing star and racing needs stars,'' Jones said, crediting Porter for keeping her on the track and out of the more lucrative breeding shed. ''Having insurance on this horse is going to cost him as much as she'll probably win.''
Porter said afterward, ''She puts fire in my belly every time she races. She's just an amazing force that fits the name harbor of grace.''
Jones said he and Porter will target weight-for-age races this year, with the possibility that Havre de Grace will run against males again.
''There's not that many boys we think are better than her right now,'' Jones said.
Kentucky Derby champion Animal Kingdom earned 3-year-old male honors, edging Caleb's Posse, 114-111 in the voting. Animal Kingdom finished second in the Preakness and wound up sixth in the Belmont Stakes after a terrible trip. His season was cut short by injury in mid-June. He is scheduled to run again this year.
Caleb's Posse won half of his 10 starts, including the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and the Kings Bishop, in which he edged Uncle Mo.
Bill Mott won trainer honors, capping a year in which he swept the top two races at the Breeders' Cup.
Mott earned his third career Eclipse over fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher, who led the nation's trainers in purse earnings with $16.8 million.
Mott saddled Royal Delta to victory in the BC Ladies' Classic in November and the next day his Drosselmeyer pulled an upset in the BC Classic. Royal Delta was chosen as 3-year-old filly. Last year, the East Coast-based Mott won 15 graded stakes races, including six in November. Mott had purse earnings of more than $10.5 million.
''The competition was pretty deep and this is a real honor,'' Mott said in thanking his assistant trainers, his horses and his family.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen won the trophy for 2-year-old, beating out Union Rags, winner of the Saratoga Special and Champagne and runner-up in the Juvenile.
Kyle Frey, a 19-year-old who rode 153 winners and won at a 17 percent clip last year, earned apprentice jockey honors.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey were chosen owner of the year. Their horses earned more than $4.8 million, fourth-best in the nation.
Adena Springs Farms, based in Kentucky and Canada and run by Frank Stronach, was chosen breeder of the year for the fourth time.
Ireland-bred Cape Blanco earned male turf honors, while France-bred Stacelita took the female turf award.
In the sprinting categories, Amazombie won male honors and Musical Romance took the female trophy. Amazombie, who was never worse than third in nine starts last year, capped 2011 with a win in the BC Sprint. Musical Romance won the BC Filly & Mare Sprint.
California-based Acclamation received older male honors, winning five of his seven starts last year, including the Pacific Classic.
''Wow, after only 55 years in the business, I think that's pretty great,'' co-owner Bud Johnston said.
My Miss Aurelia, who won all four of her races, including the BC Juvenile Fillies, received 2-year-old filly honors.