It's been an extraordinary year for Havre de Grace - the racehorse, not to be confused with the Harford County city of the same name where the Susquehanna River meets the Chesapeake Bay.
There are plenty of folks who live in Havre de Grace the city, however, who no doubt will be rooting for Havre de Grace the horse Saturday evening around 7 p.m. when the filly goes postward in the $5 million Breeders Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
The 4-year-old daughter of St. Liam is on the cusp of completing a world championship season.
If she wins the mile and a quarter Classic Saturday, she'll undeniably wrap up the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. If she finishes in the money, she still might be Horse of the Year. No matter were she crosses under the finish wire, she's all but cinched the Eclipse Award as the world's top older female thoroughbred racehorse for 2011.
Havre de Grace the horse is owned by Rick Porter of Wilmington, De., whose Fox Hill Farm near Newark, De., has been one of the nation's most successful racing stables over the past six years.
In previous interviews, Porter has said he named Havre de Grace, whom he bought at a 2008 Kentucky sale, for the racetrack in the city that operated from 1912 to 1950.
In its heyday, the track was considered one of the top horse racing venues in the U.S., where champions such as Man 'O War, Seabiscuit and Citation routinely competed.
Increased competition following World War II and Maryland politics eventually doomed "The Graw," as the track was known. When it closed, the racing plant was acquired by the Maryland National Guard, which turned it into the Havre de Grace Military Reservation.
The track's old grandstand, clubhouse and paddock and some of the barns have lived on as converted offices, garages and storehouses used by the military.
The ranks of the old timers in Havre de Grace who worked or played at the track are dwindling, but the all the memories haven't all gone with them. The city in recent years has been holding a "Graw Days" festival in the fall to honor its racing heritage and the characters it drew to town when the ponies were running. A few years ago, there was even an effort to turn the old track property and a nearby farm into a Maryland Horse Park, but the project has stalled.
Havre de Grace the horse had a credible, though hardly spectacular 3-year-old season in 2010, though her name alone was enough to make many of the racing fans in Harford County take notice.
The filly started six times last year and finished in the money in all six, with two wins and three seconds and almost $840,000 in purse winnings. Her worst finish was third in the year's biggest race for fillies and mares, the Breeders Cup Ladies Classic, where she was behind Unrivalled Belle and Blind Luck, the latter who was voted last year's top 3-year-old filly.
This year, Havre de Grace has been nothing short of spectacular, winning five of six starts and $1.3 million. Her only loss, by a nose or less, was to Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park in July.
Since then, Havre de Grace has won the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga and the Beldame Handicap at Belmont Park.
The latter race is one of the most prestigious an older female horse can win, but it was in the Woodward that Havre de Grace really did something special. Triumphing by more than 11 lengths over the field of male horses, she became only the second filly to win the Grade I race since its inception in 1954. The only other female Woodward champion was the 2009 Preakness winner, Rachel Alexander, who then went on to be voted Horse of the Year.
At Churchill Downs in Saturday's Breeders Cup Classic, Havre de Grace will face 13 other horses, again all of them males as in the Woodward. She's listed as a 3-to-1 second choice by the track oddsmaker. The 5-2 early favorite, Uncle Mo, was considered one of the top 3-year-old colts going into the season, but missed the Triple Crown classics with an injury and has only raced twice since April.
Whether she wins or not, you can bet the folks in Havre de Grace the city will be rooting for Havre de Grace the horse to win. It will be a city booster's dream come true when the unmistakable voice of race caller Trevor Denman cries, "And here comes Havre de Grace!"