01/17/2012 12:21PM

Havre de Grace wins Horse of Year in landslide, looks to back it up in 2012

Tom Keyser
Havre de Grace received 166 of 248 possible first-place votes for Horse of Year.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – It turned out the debate for Horse of the Year wasn’t much of a debate at all.

Havre de Grace was a lopsided winner when results for Horse of the Year were announced Monday night at the end of the 41st annual Eclipse Awards dinner here at the Beverly Wilshire. She received 166 of the 248 possible votes among members of Daily Racing Form , the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which includes Equibase.

There were 12 other horses who received votes for Horse of the Year, with Acclamation, named the champion older male Monday night, a distant second with 26 votes. He was followed by Game On Dude (10 votes), Cape Blanco (9), Drosselmeyer (6), Royal Delta (6), Tizway (6), Rapid Redux (4), Animal Kingdom (3), My Miss Aurelia (3), Caleb’s Posse (2), and Court Vision and Hansen, who received one vote each. Four voters abstained, and one ballot was counted as a no vote.

Havre de Grace, who was 4 in 2011, became the third straight female to be named Horse of the Year, following Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, a feat never before accomplished in American racing.

“I just hope we can do it again in 2012,” said Rick Porter, whose Fox Hill Farm owns Havre de Grace.

[ECLIPSE AWARDS: 2011 Eclipse Award winners, video | Crist: Full voting breakdown]

One of the gratifying aspects of this year’s Eclipse Awards is that so many of the winners, most notably Havre de Grace – who also was named champion older female – are still in training. Also scheduled to compete this year are Game On Dude, Royal Delta (champion 3-year-old filly), Rapid Redux, Animal Kingdom (champion 3-year-old male), My Miss Aurelia (champion 2-year-old filly), Caleb’s Posse, and Hansen (champion 2-year-old male) – all of whom received votes for Horse of the Year – as well as Eclipse Award winners Amazombie (male sprinter), Musical Romance (female sprinter), and Black Jack Blues (steeplechaser).

By Tuesday morning, Porter was headed back to his home in Florida, and Larry Jones, who trains Havre de Grace, was returning to New Orleans, where he is based this winter with Havre de Grace. She is scheduled to make her first start of the year during the Fair Grounds meet, in approximately two months.

In 2011, Havre de Grace won five times in seven starts, but the most significant victory, the one that propelled her to Horse of the Year, came when she defeated males in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. She followed that up with a romp over Royal Delta in the Beldame Stakes, a victory that looked even better when Royal Delta subsequently won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.

Instead of running in the Ladies’ Classic, though, Porter and Jones put Havre de Grace in the tougher Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which she again took on males, and she finished a respectable fourth in a performance that in no way diminished her 2011 accomplishments in the eyes of the Eclipse Award voters.

“I’ve seen the lowest of the lows,” Porter said, referring to the tragic death of his filly Eight Belles following her runner-up finish in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, “and I’ve seen a lot of highs, but nothing rivals Havre de Grace.

“She had the most memorable campaign. She won big races when it counted. As Larry has said, she’s the perfect racehorse.”

Porter said that Havre de Grace “did everything Larry and I asked of her and then some.”

“She’s an owner’s dream come true,” Porter said.

For Jones and Porter, it was their first Horse of the Year.

“Now, everyone can see why I came back to training,” said Jones, who took off 2010 to address health issues and turned his barn over to his wife, Cindy.

“Larry Jones couldn’t have done a better job showing his horsemanship,” Porter said. “He makes nights like this possible. For me, more than anyone in this game, he makes it fun. He always has a smile on his face, and he puts a smile on mine.”

Porter also praised Corey York, Jones’s top assistant, “for always being there when I’ve had a good horse and traveling far and wide when we needed to ship, making sure there are no hiccups.”

Porter acknowledged Tony Dutrow, who trained Havre de Grace at ages 2 and 3 before he and Porter parted ways and Porter gave Havre de Grace to Jones.

“Tony’s team did such a good job during her 2- and 3-year-old years,” Porter said.

And Porter thanked Ramon Dominguez, the regular rider for Havre de Grace, who won his second straight Eclipse Award as champion jockey and also was the rider for Eclipse Award winners Hansen and Stacelita.