01/04/2012 3:37PM

Jerardi: Havre de Grace something to look forward to in 2012

Barbara D. Livingston
Havre de Grace, among the favorites for 2011 Horse of the Year, will return to race in 2012.

Here is the good news about 2012 in horse racing. There is no Iowa caucus.

We may not have any superstar horses at the moment, but neither do we have Mitt, Newt, Ron, Rick squared, and the rest who just spent millions searching for votes that will be little noted nor long remembered.

Speaking of votes, I just spent a few hours last weekend poring over the 2011 past performances before going online to type in my Eclipse Award choices. As I was looking at all the horses, I also was trying to look forward to 2012.

The good news is that at least one of the three horses that won an American-best three Grade 1 races will definitely be racing. That would be the now 5-year-old mare Havre de Grace, the likely 2011 Horse of the Year, an anonymous one-time winner when I first spotted her in the flesh.
On May 10, 2010, I was wandering aimlessly around the former Philadelphia Park (not an unusual occurrence) when I looked into the paddock for the ninth race.

Tony Dutrow trained two of the five horses in the first-level allowance race for 3-year-old fillies. They had different owners. One was 3-5, the other 3-1. Dutrow was saddling the 3-1 shot. I found that interesting.

So I walked into the paddock. Dutrow mentioned something about “stakes horse.” I wandered off to the windows.
The 3-5 shot, named Volare Cantare, had most recently been a distant fifth in the Comely Stakes. She had won her maiden by a dozen lengths in January at Aqueduct, earning a 77 Beyer Speed Figure that was looking very much like an aberration. But she had been in two stakes, so she went favored.

The 3-1 shot had not raced since the previous September, when she won her maiden in her second start at Delaware Park, earning a 65 Beyer. Both her starts had been around two turns. I found that interesting.

I walked out to the apron to watch the race and noticed Rick Porter was there. He owned the 3-1 shot. I found that interesting.

She was by 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam. I found that interesting.

She was still 3-1. I found that very interesting, so I wandered back to the windows.

If I have learned anything about Beyer Figures through the years, it is to add anywhere from 10 to 15 points to a classy-looking 3-year-old’s best numbers when the horse has been off for six or seven months. Using that formula, I figured the 3-1 shot could get anywhere between a 75 and an 80. When I heard “stakes,” I was hoping for even more.

Well, I got more than I imagined that day and more than anybody probably ever imagined on the next 12 days the filly raced. Havre de Grace dropped back to last, quickly got into perfect stalking position, and eased by the front-runners in the stretch to win by a comfortable 1 1/4 lengths. She got an 84 Beyer.

It was the last time she did not race in a stakes race. She won those three Grade 1’s this year. She had three other graded stakes wins since that race at the old Philly Park and would have three more if it hadn’t been for Blind Luck. She now has nine triple-digit Beyers and nearly $2.5 million in earnings.

Apparently, Dutrow, who trained the filly through her 3-year-old season, knew something. So does Larry Jones who trained her last year and will train her this year.

As for the 3-5 shot, she was a well-beaten third, 7 1/4 lengths behind her stablemate. It would be Volare Cantare’s final race for Dutrow. She did not race again until Jan. 1, 2011, at Tampa Bay Downs.

She raced eight times last year. She never finished first, but was placed first by disqualification on that New Year’s Day race. Most recently, she was a badly beaten fifth on Aug. 2 in a Penn National optional claimer after finishing fifth in a Parx grass race. She earned $36,468 last year, $11,268 more than Havre de Grace got for winning that allowance race. That 77 remains her best Beyer.

All of which proves you never quite know what you might stumble into at the track, anymore than any of us know what might happen in 2012.

I have a few opinions, but there are just enough unknowns to cloud my opinions.

I see no reason why Havre de Grace should not have another great year, but how many top horses this side of Zenyatta hold their form in this era through their 5-year-old and then 6-year-old seasons.

I think Union Rags has the potential to be a top 3-year-old, something quite a bit more than a 2-year-old that peaks in the fall and never goes forward. Am I absolutely positive? No more than I was sure that Havre de Grace was going to win that allowance race, but sometimes you just have to believe.

And, if you can’t believe, why would you ever be wandering around Parx or be thinking about the Kentucky Derby in the first week of January.