10/14/2016 1:46PM

Havre de Grace's first foal makes debut


ELMONT, N.Y. – The featured race on Sunday’s Belmont Park card technically is the fourth, the Grade 3, $200,000 Matron Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. But another juvenile filly will garner plenty of attention later on the card.

Heavenly Grace, the first foal out of the champion mare Havre de Grace, makes her career debut in race 7, a six-furlong race that drew a field of 11.

Havre de Grace, who beat males in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga, was the 2011 Horse of the Year and sold for a world-record $10 million at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November mixed sale. She was purchased by Mandy Pope, who bred Havre de Grace to Tapit and produced Heavenly Grace.

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Heavenly Grace had several works at GoldMark Farm in Florida in the spring and summer and was shipped to trainer Ralph Nicks at Saratoga at the beginning of the meet in late July. However, the filly didn’t get back on the work tab until Aug. 27.

“We thought she would run at Saratoga, but she had a systemic issue when she got up there, and we missed 10 days, two weeks up there,” Nicks said.

Heavenly Grace has been on a steady work pattern since late August, breezing seven times, including a bullet five-furlong move from the gate Oct. 6 and a bullet three-furlong blowout Thursday.

“We’re looking for a good education,” Nicks said. “Obviously, you always want to win. She’s not a 21 [-second] kind of horse away from the gate. I think she’s going to do a lot better when we go further with her. We’ve had her behind horses, taking dirt. Her gate work was good; she stayed steady and finished up very well.”

Naturally, with Heavenly Grace’s sterling pedigree, expectations are high.

“At the end of the day, she’s a nice horse,” Nicks said. “It’s a little early to sit here and say she’s going to be the next coming, but she’s damn sure done some things that I like. I think there’s a lot of raw talent there. The most impressive thing for me is she’s going to like it as we go on; that’s what we’re always looking for.”

Heavenly Grace will break from post 6 under Irad Ortiz Jr.

There are some other well-bred firsters in this field as well as a number of horses with experience. Godolphin Racing has an entry of Orchestrate, a firster who is a full sister to 2005 champion 2-year-old filly Folklore, and Ladies Day, a runner-up to Runway Doll in the slop at Saratoga on July 31 in her only start.

China Rider goes back to dirt after running fourth to La Coronel in a maiden race at Saratoga.

As for Havre de Grace, after delivering Heavenly Grace in 2014, she had a colt by War Front in 2015. Due to an error entering his reserve, that colt was a high-profile $1.9-million buyback at last month’s Keeneland September yearling sale. Pope has thus retained ownership and taken him to her Whisper Hill Farm in Florida to begin his early training for a racing career.

Havre de Grace delivered another Tapit filly in March, and was bred back to the leading stallion for 2017.

- additional reporting by Nicole Russo