In 2011, Havre de Grace delighted racing fans at five different tracks, from her thriller-diller showdown with Blind Luck in the GII Delaware Handicap (video) to her GI Woodward S. performance at Saratoga, in which she gave the boys a proper trouncing (video).
I have fond memories of photographing the tall, bay daughter of Saint Liam. She is both photogenic and charismatic- I spent as much time admiring her as I did photographing her on the morning of the Woodward. After Havre de Grace's Woodward victory, her jubilant connections brought her back to a little grazing area, where she posed this way and that and treated photographers to a photo session in the fading summer light.
At Monday night's Eclipse Awards, the connections of Havre de Grace accepted the award for Horse of the Year. Owner Rick Porter said, "As many of you know, I've seen the lowest of lows in horseracing. And I've seen a lot of highs. But nothing rivals Havre de Grace. She is the most deserving horse. She is the perfect racehorse, as [trainer] Larry [Jones] has said. She has a great demeanor, an absolutely gorgeous body, a heart as big as America and more ability than any horse that I have ever owned. She puts fire in my belly every time she races. She is just an amazing horse and fits the name Harbor of Grace."
Just three days earlier, another Thoroughbred with a heart the size of America was awarded Horse of the Year honors. He raced in Australia under the name Hurtle (pedigree), but he's much better known as Neville Bardos. The Danzig grandson didn't show much talent on the turf, and was destined for slaughter, according to trainer and rider Boyd Martin. Neville was purchased for $850, and began his second career as an event horse.
In less than five years, the fiery chestnut went from being a slow racehorse to the United States Equestrian Federation's Horse of the Year and a 2012 Olympic hopeful. But along the way, Neville faced an obstacle like no other. In May 2011, he was in a barn fire that took the lives of six horses. Neville suffered from burns and smoke inhalation, but with the help of his devoted owners and a dedicated veterinary team, his miraculous recovery led him to the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in England in September, where he finished seventh to cap off a year of unimaginable highs and lows.
I have photographed the team of Neville Bardos and Boyd Martin at both Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and the World Equestrian Games. The pair always sports serious game faces, and can be seen from a mile away, thanks to Neville's blaze, which crosses his face at a rakish angle.
movie). But Neville the horse is living a life that is beyond cinematic.