As rock musician Meat Loaf once sang: “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
Wilmington’s Rick Porter’s filly Havre de Grace beat the boys once again winning Horse of the Year honors, and trainer Graham Motion’s Animal Kingdom was voted the 3-year-old male champion at the 41st annual Eclipse Awards dinner in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 16. Phyllis Wyeth’s Union Rags was runner-up to Hansen in the 2-year-old champion vote.
Consistently brilliant all year, Havre de Grace joined Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta in becoming the third consecutive female to be named Horse of the Year, a feat never before accomplished in American racing.
“It’s some kind of thrill to win this award that I only dreamed of 10 or 15 years ago,” said owner Porter when accepting the gold Eclipse trophy for Horse of the Year.
“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.”
Trained by Larry Jones, Havre de Grace was an even easier winner for champion older female, receiving 245 first-place votes out of 248 for champion older female.
Havre de Grace ducked no one. Porter and his trainer Larry Jones stepped up to every challenge. That approach — one of true sportsmen — said as much as the filly’s stellar performances on the track. During her 2011 campaign Havre de Grace won five of seven starts racing against top-tier competition from March through October. The brilliant 4-year old filly scored five graded stakes wins, including three Grade-1s by an average of three lengths. She raced at five different tracks in four states.
Her victory beating the boys in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga by 1¼ lengths was a game-changer for many voters. Then she went on to destroy eventual Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner and champion 3-year-old filly Royal Delta in the Beldame Stakes. Havre de Grace completed her year with a respectable fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She earned $1, 623,000 in 2011.
Havre de Grace arrived at Fair Grounds outside New Orleans in early January after taking a two-month break at Vinery Farm near Ocala, Fla. She is being pointed to a comeback race on March 17 in the $100,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes.
“It probably won’t take her long to get ready,” Jones said.
Animal Kingdom, 3-Year-Old Male Champ
Victories in the Kentucky Derby and Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes along with a close runner-up finish to Shackleford in the Preakness Stakes (G1), proved enough to secure the 3-Year-old Male Eclipse Award for Animal Kingdom, who is trained by Graham Motion and based at the Fair Hill Training Center.
Animal Kingdom had no chance in the Belmont Stakes. He was clobbered coming out of the gate and nearly lost his rider. He rallied to make a huge move into contention before tiring late in the race, finishing sixth and exiting the race with a season-ending slab fracture in his hind leg.
Despite being sidelined since early June, the spring accomplishments of Team Valor’s powerful chestnut colt Kingdom stood out as the division’s most impressive.
The major goal for Animal Kingdom, who finished second in a turf allowance at Gulfstream last March, is the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 24. The Grade-1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on February 11 is a strong possibility for his 2012 return. Motion has been impressed with Animal Kingdom since he returned to training.
“I think physically, he’s a bigger, stronger animal that he was last year,” said Motion.
Union Rags, Runner-up
Union Rags was runner-up in the voting for champion 2-year-old male, losing out to Hansen, who defeated him by a short head in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Raised at Phyllis Wyeth’s Point Lookout Farm near Chadds Ford, Pa., Union Rags is slated to race in Gulfstream Park’s major 3-year-old preps for the Kentucky Derby. His 3-year old debut is set for the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26 and then it’s on to the Florida Derby on March 31. Trained by Chester County’s Michael Matz, Union Rags is currently the Kentucky Derby favorite in Las Vegas future-book odds.