Updated on 02/24/2012 2:44PM

Fair Grounds: Havre de Grace to start campaign in New Orleans Ladies

Barbara D. Livingston
Havre de Grace will make her first start of 2012 in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS – It turns out Havre de Grace, the 2011 Horse of the Year, will make her 2012 debut here at Fair Grounds after all.

Owner Rick Porter, having been informed that Havre de Grace’s weight assignment for the New Orleans Ladies on March 17 would be far more advantageous than originally told and encouraged by Fair Grounds management boosting the purse of the race, early Friday afternoon said Havre de Grace would run in the New Orleans Ladies, rather than go to the Grade 3 Azeri at Oaklawn Park the same day.

Porter on Wednesday said Havre de Grace would run in the Azeri. Instead, Joyful Victory, also owned by Porter and also trained by Larry Jones, will go to Oaklawn. Porter announced the news on his website, rockportharbor.com, where he had posted the news of Havre de Grace going to the Azeri on Wednesday.

“Larry and I discussed the change and felt it was worth staying in New Orleans, since she had been training there very well,” Porter wrote. “She is used to the track, is traveling nicely over it, and we avoid shipping a horse of the caliber of Havre de Grace. I hate to change my mind after posting on the website, but it is the best for Havre de Grace.

“Sorry for all the confusion for the tracks, the fans, and the journalists,” Porter added. “I apologize for any inconvenience.”

Under the allowance conditions of the New Orleans Ladies, Havre de Grace will carry just 117 pounds. Jones said he was originally told by the racing office that Havre de Grace would carry 122 pounds, which was one of the factors cited in the announcement Wednesday that Havre de Grace would go to the Azeri.

Then, on Friday, Fair Grounds raised the purse, increasing it from $100,000 to $150,000 to match the Azeri.

“We adjusted it to the level we feel it belongs when you have that type of competition,” said Eric Halstrom, vice president and general manager for racing at Fair Grounds.

Halstrom said the purse hike is contingent on a multiple Grade 1 winner – for which Havre de Grace qualifies – competing in the race. Otherwise, it reverts to $100,000.

According to Jones, the confusion began when he contacted the racing office early in the week and was told Havre de Grace would carry 122 pounds in the New Orleans Ladies. But, according to the conditions of the race, no horse could possibly carry that amount. The published conditions call for a top weight of 123 pounds, with allowances, beginning at two pounds, made for horses who have not won races going back as far as Dec. 17. Since Havre de Grace has not run since the Breeders’ Cup Classic in early November, she would in fact get a six-pound allowance, putting her at 117 pounds.

“They called me Thursday and told me there had been a mistake. They had read me the conditions from the year Rachel Alexandra ran in the race,” Jones said, referring to the inaugural 2010 version of the New Orleans Ladies. “So, she gets in light. They also called Mr. Porter yesterday. And then Mr. Porter called me.”