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Havre de Grace Likely for New Orleans Ladies

Reigning Horse of the Year Havre de Grace is likely to make her 2012 debut in the March 17 New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, owner Rick Porter said Friday, reversing course on a previous announcement that the mare would travel to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., for the Grade III Azeri Stakes the same day.

Porter posted a statement on the Fox Hill Farm website, RockportHarbor.com, saying he and trainer Larry Jones reconsidered after further discussions with Fair Grounds officials.

“Larry and I discussed the change and felt it was worth staying in New Orleans since she had been training there very well,” the statement said. “She is used to the track, is travelling nicely over it and we avoid shipping a horse of the caliber of Havre de Grace.”

Although the conditions of the New Orleans Ladies have not changed, Fair Grounds did add a stipulation that the purse would be bumped from $100,000 to $150,000 if a multiple Grade I winner starts.

“If this adjustment helps to attract a mare like Havre de Grace for New Orleans racing fans then it’s the right decision,” said Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant. “After talking it through with Eric(Halstrom, Fair Grounds Vice President and General Manager), we’re already thinking that this tweak could become permanent. From a timing standpoint, our race is the perfect springboard to major stakes at Oaklawn and Churchill Downs, and our hope is that we’ll continue to see champions start their campaigns at Fair Grounds year after year.”

The New Orleans Ladies was created for the 2009-2010 season as a comeback spot for 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, who was upset in that race by Zardana. Last year’s New Orleans Ladies was won by Ravi’s Song.

AVIE’S SENSE LEARNING TO FLY IN RACHEL ALEXANDRA – Trainer Josie Carroll saddled Donver Stable’s Inglorious to win Canada’s Grade I Queen’s Plate last June against male sophomores after bringing that filly to the Crescent City last winter. Based largely on that triumph in what is essentially Canada’s version of the Kentucky Derby, Inglorious could well become Canada’s Horse of the Year when the 2011 Sovereign Awards are announced this April.

However, although Inglorious was two-for-two in a pair of starts north of the border as a juvenile upon her arrival in The Big Easy, she made her first start as a sophomore in last year’s Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes and finished second, putting the initial blemish on her previously perfect record.

“When she (Inglorious) kicked in, she kicked in,” said the undiscouraged Ms. Carroll right after the Rachel Alexandra. “This filly’s been off for a while and I think we’ll move forward from this.”

Now, the Canadian trainer has brought another promising filly – Tall Oaks Farm’s Avie’s Sense – to New Orleans this winter to run in Saturday’s Rachel Alexandra as the final designed prep race for the Grade II, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks March 31, and this daughter of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense broke her maiden with a win over the local track Jan. 5 after failing to accomplish that mission in two juvenile starts at Woodbine.

Despite the seeming disparity in the first three career start of Inglorious and Avie’s Sense, Carroll finds the two fillies quite comparable in quality.

“I thought (Inglorious) ran really well in this race last year,” said Carroll Friday morning during training hours at Fair Grounds. “I think Julien (Leparoux, jockey aboard the Rachel Alexandra winner Kathmanblu) just got away from us and we probably needed the race after my filly’s layoff coming into that race.

“As for Avie’s Sense, I’m pretty excited about her as well,” said Carroll. “This race Saturday is a very exciting opportunity and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve trained a number of horses from this same filly’s family and all but one of them has turned out very well for me.”

Avie’s Sense, who breezed four furlongs in 49.40 on Mardi Gras morning, is out of the Lord Avie mare Fly for Avie, and that mare won Canada’s prestigious E. P. Taylor Stakes over the Canadian grass at Woodbine.

BREEDERS’ CUP CHAMP RUNS UNDER RADAR IN SATURDAY’S COLONEL POWER – The Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds is the showcase event among six stakes worth a total of $885,000 to be run at the New Orleans oval Saturday, and that’s because it serves as the final designed prep for the track’s signature stakes event, the $1 million Louisiana Derby April 1.

Similarly, Saturday’s Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes serves as the preview for the upcoming $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks March 31.

However, the both the $300,000 Risen Star and the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra give 3-year-old Thoroughbreds a chance to show potential – not necessarily ability already proven at the Breeders’ Cup level – and there is only one horse of that status scheduled to go to the post Saturday at Fair Grounds.

That is, of course, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint championChamberlain Bridge. The gelding suffered a six-race losing streak shortly after that championship win, including an eighth-place finish in last fall’s BC Turf Sprint – leaving the impression that he might have lost a step during his 7-year-old season. Nevertheless, he bounced back late in the year with a win in Fair Grounds’ $73,000 Bonapaw Stakes impressively on Dec. 17. Can he make it two straight when he when he goes to the post as an 8-year-old in Saturday’s $75,000 Colonel Power Stakes?

“We did change some things (in his training) this winter,” said trainer Bret Calhoun, speaking in his backstretch office during training hours Friday morning. “We were a little more aggressive early in that last race with him. We changed tactics a little and that seemed to keep him a little more interested in trying to win. He’s always trained the same way in the mornings, so it’s a little hard to tell how he’s going to do in the afternoon, but he’s been training well.  Hopefully, we’ve got him back to the point where he really wants to win.”

Calhoun also now has a 3-year-old filly named Summer Applause, recently purchased by Gillian Campbell et al., set to go to the post in Saturday’s Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes. She is making her second start for Calhoun after winning her first race here this winter for trainer Josie Carroll.

“It looks to me like this race Saturday sets up very well for her because of all the speed in there,” said Calhoun.  “I’m getting to know her a little better, now. She’s maturing very rapidly since she’s been with me even though I haven’t had her very long and everything seems to be coming together for her lately.”

MISTER MARTI GRAS CROSS-ENTERED SATURDAY – Lothenbach Stables’ Mister Marti Gras, hero of Churchill’s Grade III Ack Ack and Arlington Park’s Grade III Washington Park handicaps late last year, has been cross-entered in both Saturday’s Grade III Mineshaft Handicap on the main track as the designed prep for the Grade II New Orleans Handicap April 1, as well as Saturday’s Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap over the Stall-Wilson turf course and serving in that same preparatory capacity for the Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap on that April closing day of Fair Grounds’ 2011-2012 season.

“If it rains and the grass race is taken off the turf and run on the main track, we’ll go in there because right now we’re looking for the easiest spot,” said trainer Neil Pessin. “Otherwise, we’ll go in the Mineshaft. The (three) scratches out of the Mineshaft included the early speed, so that actually makes that race tougher for our horse, but it doesn’t really matter because our ultimate goal this winter is the New Orleans  Handicap.”

Additional reporting by Jim Mulvihill