Heavenly Grace has some big horseshoes to fill

Profile Picture: Jen Caldwell

Jen Caldwell

October 15th, 2016

In January 2012 at the Eclipse Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills, California, a four-year-old filly named Havre de Grace was revealed to be the 2011 Horse of the Year.

She earned that top honor without winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) or even going undefeated during her championship season. The bay lass only beat her male counterparts once and never scored in any Breeders’ Cup race during her career.

On Sunday, Havre de Grace’s first registered foal will make her debut in the 7TH race at Belmont Park for trainer Ralph Nicks. The two-year-old Heavenly Grace is by leading sire Tapit and will attempt to justify owner/breeder Whisper Hill Farm’s paying $10 million for her dam at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale in 2012.

Everyone is eager to see if the young miss has inherited her dam’s celebrated talent.

Heavenly Grace has been preparing for her racing bow since late June. The gray miss spent part of the summer at Saratoga and then moved to Belmont Park, where she’s recorded back-to-back bullets of 1:00.33 on October 6 and :36.85 seven days later.

Havre de Grace, on the other hand, never worked at either Saratoga or Belmont but did earn two of her biggest wins at those tracks.

Havre de Grace actually got her start under trainer Tony Dutrow at Delaware Park. After running third in her first outing, the bay daughter from the only crop of ill-fated 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam visited the winner’s circle following a 4 3/4-length victory on September 30, 2009.

She wouldn’t be seen again until May of her sophomore season, when she took an allowance at Philadelphia Park (renamed Parx Racing). Havre de Grace just missed when second in her stakes bow, the Go for Wand Stakes back at Delaware Park, then began a rivalry that extended all the way into her four-year-old campaign.

The Kentucky-bred filly met 2010 Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Blind Luck in the Delaware Oaks (G2) and just missed by a nose to that foe. The duo faced off yet again in the Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, with Blind Luck once again narrowly getting the best of her rival.

Havre de Grace turned the tables in the Cotillion Stakes (G2), beating Blind Luck by a quarter-length in the lead-up to the ultimate showdown in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1).

Neither filly came out on top in that championship event, upset by Unbridled Belle, but Blind Luck did hold Havre de Grace to third by a length.

The rivalry continued into the new year but with a couple of changes. Havre de Grace was transferred to trainer Larry Jones and found herself getting the best of Blind Luck. They met up in Havre de Grace’s first start, the Azeri Stakes (G3), which saw the filly begin her Horse of the Year campaign with a 3 1/4-length score over Blind Luck.

Havre de Grace proceeded to add the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) and Obeah Stakes (G3) to her resume before once again suffering a close nose loss to Blind Luck, this time in the Delaware Handicap (G2).

Havre de Grace was given a brief freshening and then, despite the most recent loss, owner Fox Hill Farm principal Rick Porter and trainer Larry Jones decided to try the four-year-old against the boys in the Woodward Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. She rewarded that faith with an easy 1 1/4-length score and then romped next out at Belmont Park by 8 1/4 lengths in the Beldame Invitational (G1).

Once again, Havre de Grace’s connections opted to take a chance instead of going for the safe route of sending her back to the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. They began preparing the talented miss for the Breeders’ Cup Classic instead, and, though she wasn’t able to win on that occasion, she did repute herself well when beaten only three lengths in fourth by Drosselmeyer, Game On Dude and Ruler On Ice.

It should be noted Drosselmeyer and Ruler On Ice had won the past two editions of the Belmont Stakes (G1). Running behind Havre de Grace in the Breeders’ Cup Classic were the likes of multiple Grade 1-scoring multi-millionaires Flat Out, To Honor and Serve, Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty as well as Australian, Irish and English superstar So You Think.

Also, finishing second to Havre de Grace in the Beldame was Royal Delta, who would go on to earn three Eclipse Awards, two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and more than $4.8 million in lifetime earnings before passing the torch in 2013 to another up-and-coming supermare – Beholder.

While some of these had yet to prove themselves to be superstars at the time, looking back they further validate Havre de Grace’s status as a Horse of the Year.

Hopefully, she’s passed the same talent and tenacity that earned her such accolades on to her daughter. We’ll get a glimpse on Sunday.

Heavenly Grace photo courtesy of Teresa Genaro