A tearful Larry Jones, the trainer of Eight Belles, who broke down in the gallop-out after finishing second in the Run for the Roses, said there would be no second-guessing in what he called an "unfortunate" outcome that couldn't be foreseen.
Eight Belles, owned by Rick Porter, ran a spectacular race in the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at Churchill Downs to finish 4 ¾ lengths behind the monstrous Big Brown and well ahead of the 18 other colts in the 20-horse field. But the Unbridled’s Song filly broke both ankles near the 6 ½-furlong pole about a quarter-mile after the finish.
“She had her ears up as she crossed the wire,” Jones said during a meeting with the press about two hours after the race. “We were high-fiving. I told everyone if we run fourth, fifth, or sixth, we’ve had a great weekend as long as she comes back to the barn good.”
Jones trains Proud Spell, who the day before won the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) for owner Brereton Jones. And Eight Belles certainly ran a winning race in the Derby.
“It was a quarter-mile after the race,” Jones said in disbelief. “(Breakdowns) just don’t happen there. There’s always a reason things happen, but right now I see no reason for this. She ran the race of her life; she put it out there.”
Dr. Larry Bramlage agreed. "She appeared to be galloping out fine," he said. "I haven't seen this before."
Jones said the injuries were so severe there was no way Eight Belles could be saved. He also said he saw no problem with the racing surface at Churchill, and had no reservations running the filly against colts given the way she had trained for the race.
Jones said Porter is “taking it pretty rough. Somebody will come up with the idea the filly shouldn’t have been in there. He’s going to second-guess himself. But I told him it wasn’t that—she finished a mile-and-a-quarter pretty well.”
Jones acknowledged injuries occur in all sports, and said he hopes some good comes out of the situation similar to the aftermath of Barbaro’s breakdown in the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
“She went out in a glory,” Jones said. “She went out a champion to us. She was our family. I saw my son yesterday and my daughter today, but I saw Eight Belles every day. She had been with us for a year.
“Losing animals like this isn’t fun. We’re heartbroken. We’re going to miss her.”
Eight Belles had five wins, three seconds, and a third in 10 career starts for earnings of $708,650.