Havre de Grace, the reigning 2011 Horse of the Year, has been retired with an injury to her right ankle, owner Rick Porter announced Monday.
Havre de Grace put in a five-furlong work at Churchill Downs on Sunday in preparation for her expected start in the Grade II La Troienne Stakes on May 4 but emerged from the move with heat in her right front ankle.
The three-time Grade I winning mare was sent to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital for evaluation by Dr. Larry Bramlage. According to the vet report Porter posted on his Web site, Havre de Grace suffered a ligament injury in that area and the remaining ligaments could become "progressively more vulnerable" should the 5-year-old daughter of Saint Liam be kept in training.
"It's been a rough day," Porter proclaimed when reached Monday afternoon. "My understanding in talking to Larry is there would be problems with the ligaments in that area. With a year's time off she could be 100 percent again but that would take us into her 6-year-old year... and it just didn't make any sense.
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"If someone had seen her walk, according to (trainer) Larry Jones this morning, she wasn't even off. She had some swelling a little while after the breeze, and this morning the heat was still there. When I got up this morning, I had a message from Larry to give him a jingle when I wake up. I was afraid to call him because I knew it wasn't good news. It's just one of those sad things."
Porter said the injury would not require surgery. The longtime owner also confirmed he would likely sell Havre de Grace at public auction this November but was leaning against breeding her at this point in the year.
"The buyer would probably like to have a fresh horse to breed her in February," Porter said. "That's my initial thought now is I'm not going to breed her. But the good news is she'll have no side effects from this."
His voice somber, Porter struggled to digest the news that his champion starlet wasn't going to get her opportunity to defend the Horse of the Year title she earned in gritty fashion one year ago.
Though a solid graded stakes winner at age 3, Havre de Grace won five of seven starts in 2011 en route to becoming the third consecutive female runner to be named Horse of the Year.
Having been previously conditioned by Tony Dutrow, Havre de Grace was transferred to Jones when he returned from a self-imposed one-year hiatus in 2011 and opened her 4-year-old campaign by defeating champion, and nemesis, Blind Luck in the Grade III Azeri at Oaklawn last March.
The bay distaffer went on to capture the Grade I Apple Blossom, Grade III Obeah, and Grade I Beldame Stakes over her own gender while handily defeating males in the Grade I Woodward Stakes.
With year-end honors on the line, Havre de Grace wrapped up her season with a fourth-place run behind longshot Drosselmeyer in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November. Even that defeat could not dull the luster of her season as she garnered 166 of 248 first-place votes for Horse of the Year, in addition to earning the Eclipse Award for champion older female.
"I had so many good plans for races picked out for her this summer," Porter said. "We really wanted to repeat as Horse of the Year and we think she had the talent to do so. Larry said she was feeling better and stronger than ever."
Havre de Grace opened her 2012 season with an easy 41/2-length triumph in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds on March 17. A bit of controversy ensued in the weeks after, however, when Porter and Jones opted not to send the bay mare to defend her Grade I Apple Blossom crown due to their displeasure over her having to concede six pounds to Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty as the 123-pound highweight for that test.
Bred in Kentucky by Nancy Dillman, Havre de Grace retires with nine victories from 16 career starts and earnings of $2,586,175.
"As Larry (Jones) would put it, we'll get through it," Porter said. "One thing I think about is there are a lot of other people with a lot worse problems. But she's one of a kind. The way she looks, the way she performed.
"I know I'll never have another Havre de Grace."