03/15/2012 3:39PM

Fair Grounds: All systems go for Havre de Grace's return

Tom Keyser
Havre de Grace has had a strong series of workouts for her comeback.

Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 Horse of the Year, spent the winter of 2009-2010 in New Orleans, and Fair Grounds, doing everything they could to showcase a champion, created a new stakes race in March to suit her. The New Orleans Ladies was meant to provide a stepping-stone to the Grade 1 Apple Blossom the next month at Oaklawn Park, where a long-awaited matchup with Zenyatta was supposed to go down. But things never really went right for Rachel. The weather was periodically awful, costing her precious training time, and Rachel seemed always to be a bit behind. Her comeback in the Ladies was decent, but Zardana, a lesser stablemate of Zenyatta, handed her a surprising defeat.

Two winters later, events have unfolded much more favorably for another reigning Horse of the Year wintering in New Orleans. Havre de Grace, freshened at a Florida farm after finishing a close fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, joined up with trainer Larry Jones’s string in January, and her preparation has glided smoothly along. She progressed rapidly from jogging to galloping, quickly got on a work pattern, and very soon was putting up some of the fastest morning drills of the Fair Grounds season. And when Havre de Grace makes her first start of 2012 on Saturday in the New Orleans Ladies, she will do so from a much more stable point of departure than was the case with Rachel Alexandra two years ago.

“Everything has just come to hand really well for her,” Jones said Thursday. “She hasn’t even had a sniffle of any kind.”

Adding to the air of an inevitable comeback victory is the competition – or lack thereof – in Saturday’s race. No foe nearly as strong as Zardana exists among the four fillies and mares entered to oppose her, and Havre de Grace’s 1-5 morning-line odds might be higher than her actual price.

The New Orleans Ladies, a 1  1/16-mile dirt race, offers a purse of $150,000, $50,000 more than would be the case if the race didn’t include a multiple Grade 1 winner. Havre de Grace, a 5-year-old Saint Liam mare owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, carries 117 pounds under the race’s allowance conditions, the same as three of her rivals and two pounds fewer than Sterling Madame. Ramon Dominguez, her regular rider, travels from the East Coast to take the mount. Post time for the New Orleans Ladies, race 9, is scheduled for 4:50 p.m. Central. Despite the possibility of a minus show pool, Fair Grounds will offer show wagering on the New Orleans Ladies provided no one is scratched.

Havre de Grace will break from post 2, and with Sterling Madame and Juanita both likely to show some speed, she should have a target if Dominguez so desires.

“I think she’s going to be really agreeable with whatever he wants her to do,” said Jones.

Havre de Grace has turned in six timed workouts preparing for her seasonal debut, the last four of them ranging from swift to sensational. Jones said Havre de Grace early in the winter experienced the sort of body soreness typical of a horse getting back into steady training, but since then the mare has moved steadily forward.

“She’s come to hand much quicker this year than last year,” said Jones. “She’s come to it easier, and it really looks like her 5-year-old year could be special for her.”

Jones and Porter haven’t plotted so much as a spring schedule yet for Havre de Grace. Her course will in part be determined by the way her stablemate Joyful Victory performs Saturday in the Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn.

“Right now we’re just looking forward to getting her going again Saturday,” Jones said.

So is the rest of the racing world.

New Orleans Ladies, Post Time: 4:50 CT Saturday

Purse: $150,000; 1 1/16 miles





ML Odds


Sterling Madame

T. Amoss

J. Graham



Havre de Grace

J. Jones

R. Dominguez



Annabel Lee

K. Schwartz

J. Jacinto



Distorted Love

H. Pitts

R. Eramia




M. Maker

R. Napravnik