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Havre de Grace tiptop heading into Fasig-Tipton's November sale
Havre de Grace doesn’t know she’s retired.
The 2011 Horse of the Year was on her toes recently as Taylor Made Farm staff led her out of her stall on a cool and gusty fall morning, bowing her glossy bay neck and prancing ladylike into a barnside show ring. There was no obvious sign of the ankle injury that ended her career in April. She danced sideways on the shank, then stopped abruptly and struck a classic pose: head high, ears pointed intently on a distant sound, nostrils gently flaring.
Mark Taylor, who heads Taylor Made’s public sales operation, smiled.
“Tom McGreevy, who bought her for Rick Porter when she was a yearling, had a great quote,” Taylor said. “He said, ‘Most horses I look at, it’s like comparing a drawing a third-grader did of a horse versus one that Munnings or Andre Pater did. If people want to know what horses are supposed to look like, this is one a great artist did.’”
Since retiring in late April, Havre de Grace has been living a pampered existence at Taylor Made, preparing for her historic appointment in Fasig-Tipton’s Lexington sale ring Nov. 5 as only the second reigning Horse of the Year to sell at public auction (the first was Lady’s Secret, who sold for $5.4 million at Fasig-Tipton’s 1987 fall mixed sale).
That’s a special event for the Thoroughbred sport, and it probably will be a profitable one for Havre de Grace’s owner, Rick Porter. Consider Royal Delta, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly. She finished more than eight lengths behind Havre de Grace in the 2011 Beldame, their only meeting. Last year, she sold to Besilu Stables for $8.5 million at Keeneland’s November auction.
Taylor won’t speculate as to how much Havre de Grace, now a 5-year-old broodmare prospect, might bring, but he points out she’s something rare.
“She’s going to bring plenty of money, but I have no idea what it will be,” Taylor said. “She’s one of those collector’s items. There have only been a handful of female Horses of the Year, and it’s not just that. She’s bred from generations of unbelievable mares, and she’s a super-elite racehorse. We’ve been selling horses 35 years, and we’ve sold a lot of great horses, but we’ve never sold a Horse of the Year. It just pumps everybody up.”
Havre de Grace’s pedigree also has a special significance for Taylor.
“Looking at her pedigree,” Taylor said. “It’s a lot of the family that my dad had at Gainesway Farm. I grew up with Toll Booth and all those Schiff mares like Missy Baba. I grew up with some of them, and I was hearing about them constantly from my dad. Plugged Nickle is in her pedigree, and he stood right there at Gainesway. I can remember studying all their pedigrees in the back of my dad’s car.”
Havre de Grace’s sire line also harks back to some Taylor Made history. She is the most accomplished member of Saint Liam’s only crop (the 2005 Horse of the Year died after his first season at stud), and her sire’s sire, Saint Ballado, helped make Taylor Made’s name as a stud farm. Saint Ballado died in 2002 after colicking. He was 13.
“He changed the farm, changed our lives, changed everything,” Taylor said. “And my dad raised his sire, Halo, out at Gainesway. So it’s really cool that she’s got that link. Top and bottom, her pedigree has my dad’s fingerprints in a way that I think is pretty special.”
Havre de Grace’s limited exercise regimen began with handwalking twice a day, then three times a day, starting with 10 or 15 minutes a walk. By the time Taylor Made turned her out into a paddock for the first time in mid-July, Havre de Grace was up to a gently tiring 45-minute walk beforehand to take the edge off her energy. The turnout was uneventful.
“She was pretty smart, and it was really easy to work with her,” said Cesar Terrazas, Taylor Made’s Eagle Creek division manager, who worked closely with Havre de Grace during her rehabilitation. “She was never excited in the stall. She took good care of herself.”
These days, Havre de Grace is outside from 7 a.m. until about 11 a.m. When she’s in the barn, she’s across the aisle and a few stall downs from Plum Pretty, the 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner.
“But if she hears anyone banging around in the barn, she comes to the gate because she thinks someone’s going to give her attention or carrots,” Taylor said. “There have been some beautiful days when we could have left her out longer, but she wants to come in and see what’s going on. She’s like, ‘Good stuff happens in there. People stop by and give me carrots.’ ”
In 2008, Havre de Grace came along right when owner Rick Porter and trainer Larry Jones needed a lift. Four months before Porter bought the then-unnamed Saint Liam-Easter Bunnette filly, they had endured a horrific spring and summer. Their star filly Eight Belles broke down fatally after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, unleashing a public backlash against Thoroughbred racing and against Porter and Jones, although there was no evidence they could have foreseen Eight Belles’s injury or that their management had contributed to it.
“Havre de Grace was just what we needed to pick our spirits up,” said Porter, who acknowledged he briefly had wondered whether to leave the game after Eight Belles’s death. “Getting her was a dream come true.”
Bred by Nancy Dillman, Havre de Grace was the first yearling on McGreevy’s short list that Porter viewed at the 2008 Keeneland September sale.
“I fell in love with her right away, and Tom and I agreed that she was a must-have,” Porter said. “Unless she went through the roof, we were going to take her with us.”
Porter paid $380,000 for Havre de Grace, who went on to win three Grade 1 races, including the 2011 Woodward over colts, and earn more than $2.5 million on the track.
“She was the most perfect horse I’ve ever been associated with,” said Jones, who came out of a yearlong retirement to train Havre de Grace and a handful of others for Porter. “When she arrived to us at Oaklawn Park, I remember grabbing my stethoscope and went to check her over like I do, and when I came out of the stall I knew I had found a horse like I’d never found before. Her heart score, air volume intake, everything you look for, it looked like there were no limitations on her.
“Someone asked me a day or two later what was the best horse I ever trained, and I pointed to her and said, ‘When all is said and done, I bet it will be that one,’ ” he said. “She was a little stand-offish or shy at first when we got her. She’d come talk to you if you invited her. But as time went on, she was a total professional.”
It was a tiny warm patch near her right front ankle that alerted Jones that Havre de Grace’s career, after 16 races and nine wins, was over last April.
“I noticed a dry spot on her poultice,” Jones said. “The only reason one spot will dry out quicker is because of heat in the leg. And she had never carried any heat. Her being who she was, and it was so out of the ordinary for her, and knowing what big races we had coming up, we didn’t take any chances.”
Jones took off the poultice and cold-hosed the ankle for about 15 minutes, but the warm spot persisted. It was the week before the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, and Jones’s Churchill Downs barn was surrounded by media.
“You can’t move the Horse of the Year out of your barn during Oaks and Derby week without everybody noticing,” Jones said. “We had to do a little David Copperfield.”
So he drew reporters’ attention to Oaks contender Believe You Can and Derby hopeful Mark Valeski while barn staff hustled Havre de Grace onto a trailer behind the barn. At Rood and Riddle in Lexington, Dr. Larry Bramlage diagnosed the ligament injury.
“She was never lame,” Mark Taylor said. “The day she came off the van, she never took a bad step. It’s a credit to Larry Jones and his staff that they picked up on it before it ever started bothering her.”
The decision to sell Havre de Grace, Porter said, was just part of a longstanding plan.
“I do very little breeding, and part of our program is to try to recoup our capital that we invest in yearlings every year by selling when we get a good horse that has good value as a stallion or a broodmare, just to bring some cash back in,” Porter said. “I’m going to miss her, but I can’t have a breeding program and a racing program, and I like racing. Especially if we can get another Havre de Grace.”
Jones and Porter will take their last look at Havre de Grace at Fasig-Tipton.
“It’s a lifetime opportunity for some lucky person,” Jones said. “I was lucky to get to go for the ride. She carried us places we never dreamed we’d get to go.”
Said Porter: “I hope she’ll make a wonderful broodmare for whoever buys her. I’m looking forward to seeing her babies. She turned out to be the most special horse that we ever had.”
hope she stays in the states
hope she runs again in 2013