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Horse racing: Havre de Grace rules in 2012 debut

Reigning Horse of the Year Havre de Grace treated Fair Grounds guests to a shamrock-flavored shower of power Saturday, giving those on hand and racing fans all over the world aSt. Patrick's Day to remember with a facile 4 1/2-length victory as she made her 2012 debut in the third running of the $150,000 New Orleans Ladies.

Allowed to settle comfortably well off the pace in the run down the backstretch, the brilliant bay mare moved up to challenge the leaders approaching the stretch, took command before the furlong grounds and drew off with intermittent urging while touring the distance in 1:42.79 – posting the fastest 1 1/16-mile time at Fair Grounds since 2007. Watch the race here.

"I had a pretty good trip," defending Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez said, as he rushed to catch a plane back to South Florida. "I tapped her a few times to keep her mind on her business but after that she was just on cruise control."

Was he able to hear the cheers of the crowd well before Havre de Grace even hit the wire?

"Yes I did," the Venezuelan-born rider said. "That's what racing is all about, bringing the fans out here to see a horse like that."

Havre de Grace returned the anticipated mutuels of $2.10, $2.10 and $2.10 and increased her career earnings to $2,586,175 with her ninth lifetime win in 16 career starts.

"Apparently she was pretty ready," trainer Larry Jones said. "We felt like she was better prepared this year than last year [coming off a layoff] and she ran big last year."

"It's always good to get the first one out from under you, get the cobwebs dusted off," Jones said. "And the time of the race – I haven't seen a lot of 1:36 miles here this meet so it shows she's back fully."

Havre de Grace stayed on the pace third down the backstretch, then made her move into the far turn. Taken a bit wide coming into the stretch, she easily made the lead and then began to draw away from the other four horses in the field.

William and Graydon Patterson's Juanita pressed the pace, was no match for the winner when challenged but was easily second best, paying $2.60 and $2.10 while finishing 6 1 /2 lengths to the good of Paul and Andrena Van Doren's Sterling Madame, who made the pace with splits of 23.68 and 47.50 before tiring and returning $2.20 to show.

With stablemate Joyful Victory's loss in Oaklawn Park's Azeri Stakes shortly before the New Orleans Ladies, it now seems likely Havre de Grace will be pointed to the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 13.

"Joyful Victory ran third up there in the Azeri so it looks like we're going to have dig a little deeper in the well if we're going to go to the Apple Blossom," Jones said. "It looks like we may have to go with the first string, but we'll see."

"Ramon put it best – 'It was the perfect mission accomplished,'" owner Rick Porter said of Saturday's race. "She did it as easy as we'd hoped. You know, Larry's got her further along than she was this time last year and she does everything so easy. The minute Ramon asked her she just couldn't wait to run. She seems to do anything anyone asks her to do. As Larry says, she doesn't have any flaws."

Regardless of the race, Porter said they are aiming as high as possible with Havre de Grace this year.

"I would like to win as many big Grade I races as possible," he said about the horse's 5-year-old campaign. "We'll pick our spots; we'll watch what the racing secretaries are going to do to her. I feel comfortable she can run against the boys anytime we need to. I'd just like to get her through the year healthy more than anything and running the way she did today we'll win plenty of races. And best of all would be to be back here next year as a 6-year-old."

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