I definitely won’t as long as she stays in her stall and away from the competition. It was reported on Saturday that “shortly after the weights were drawn” for the Grade 1 $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on Saturday and the Grade 2 $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap on Sunday.
She was withdrawn from the marquee events in Oaklawn Park’s glorious Racing Festival of the South even though she has been training over the track for one or the other since arriving in Hot Springs on April 1.
Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini quoted owner Rick Porter as saying that now the Grade 2 $300,000 La Troienne at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day (May 4) is her next likely start and that trainer Larry Jones was on his way to Arkansas to pick her up and take her to Kentucky.
The story went on to say that Porter and Jones were not happy when she was top weighted at 123 to defend her title in the Apple Blossom, and consequently, would be giving anywhere from six to 11 pounds to her rivals. With her gender allowance, she was assigned 118 for the Oaklawn Handicap.
Granted she is a filly and the racing industry has changed quite a bit since the glory days of Kelso and Forego. But the sporting aspect of the game never changes. In order to be the best, you take your assignment and then go out onto the track and show everyone why you deserve to be the Horse of the Year. That’s what the connections of Kelso and Forego always did.
For the record, Kelso was Horse of the Year an astonishing five times, an unprecedented and unequalled accomplishment, from 1960 to 1964. Afterward, Forego won the honor three straight years, from 1974 to 1976. And yes, they carried weight, plenty of it, as they set track records and racked up astonishing sets of Grade 1 wins in some mighty prestigious stakes.
Forego carried 134 pounds when he won the Carter Handicap and when the Suburban Handicap was contested at 1 ½ mile, he dragged 134 around the track again and still won. He toted 132 when he set a track record in the Brooklyn Handicap.
And in case you don’t remember the 1976 Marlboro Cup, he carried an impost of 137 when he was victorious, then went on to take the Brooklyn, Metropolitan and Woodward that year for Mrs. Martha Farish Gerry’s Lazy F Ranch.
Kelso carried at minimum130 pounds in 24 races, winning 13, placing five times and coming in third once. He set the world record of 3:19.1 for two miles in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and it still stands.
That was only one of his five straight Jockey Gold Cup wins from 1960-64, and he also won both the Suburban and the Woodward three consecutive years from 1961-1963 and the Whitney in 1961, 1963 and 1965. In 1960-61, Kelso won 11 straight races, and nobody ever gave him a break in the weights.
Nor did his owner Allaire du Pont of Bohemia Stable expect or want one. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. du Pont before she died in 2006 and it was fascinating to hear her reminisce about her beloved “Kelly”. She was a racing purist with great enthusiasm for her horses, the sport, and the spirit of competition.
With Kelso and Forego, their connections knew they had the best, and they didn’t duck anybody come hell or high imposts.
Havre de Grace could very well be the best older horse this year, not just the best older female. But until she gets back in the starting gate, we really have no way of knowing that. She got my top vote again this week in the NTRA poll on the strength of her dominating win in the New Orleans Ladies Handicap on March 17 because the reigning Horse of the Year deserves respect.
But now her next race, and just her second of 2012, is at least a month away, and that is only provided that the weights are favorable. Since she is the defending Horse of the Year, she’s going to get high weight. What she isn’t going to get, though, is my vote for No. 1 again until she goes out onto the track proves to me that she deserves it.