That decision does not bode well for Eight Belles’ three rivals, who will have their hands full in the 1 1/16-mile dirt test for sophomore fillies.
"If the (Arkansas) Derby and the Fantasy were a day apart like it had been, I would have entered her in both races, and run her in the Derby if she didn't draw wide,” Jones said earlier this week. “But with the races coming up a week apart, I can't take a chance on missing the Fantasy. I'd rather win the Fantasy than run second in the Derby."
Owned by Fox Hill Farms, Eight Belles has been spectacular in her last three starts, all convincing victories. The gray/roan filly won an allowance event by 15 lengths Jan. 21 at Fair Grounds, took the one-mile Martha Washington Stakes less than a month later by 13 ½ lengths at Oaklawn, and then won under wraps in the March 16 Honeybee (gr. III), in which she defeated Fantasy entrant Pure Clan by 1 ¼ lengths.
Eight Belles, who was bred in Kentucky by Robert N. Clay and Serengeti Stable, is 4-2-1 from eight starts, and has earned $158,650. Last month she was a late nomination to this year’s Triple Crown.
Out of the Dixieland Band mare Away, Eight Belles completed her final work for the Fantasy March 31, breezing five furlongs in 1:01.40.
"I was pleased by her work and (exercise rider) Terry (Thompson) said she wasn't blowing at all afterwards. She's dead fit, and now she'll just gallop up to the race," said Jones, who will fly back to Lexington to saddle Proud Spell in the April 5 Ashland (gr. I), and return for Eight Belles April 6.
Ramon Dominguez will get the mount on Eight Belles, who will carry 121 pounds.
Revenge will be on the mind of trainer Bob Holthus, who will send out Lewis Lakin and partners’ Pure Clan. The Pure Prize filly suffered her first defeat in the Honeybee after winning four straight to begin her career. In her defense, Pure Clan entered the Honeybee off a three-and-a-half-month layoff, and should be in much better shape to challenge her rival this time around.
A two-time graded stakes winner, Pure Clan was terrific as a 2-year-old, scoring in the Oct. 28 Pocahontas (gr. III) and Nov. 24 Golden Rod (gr. II), both at Churchill Downs. In the Honeybee, she was last on the backstretch, but found her best stride down the stretch to take second under Julien Leparoux, who will ride again.
The other two Fantasy entrants are Anita Ebert’s French Kiss and Savorthetime Stables’ Alina. A homebred, French Kiss has not started since finishing sixth in the Golden Rod, though the Hussonet--Ornate filly has been working steadily at Oaklawn. She is a half-sister to last year’s Fantasy winner, High Heels, and is trained by Gary Hartlage.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Alina is coming off a dominating 18 ¾-length victory in the March Green Oaks Stakes at Delta Downs. The Came Home filly is 3-1-0 from six career starts.
$250,000 Fantasy Stakes (gr. II, Race 10, 5:33 p.m.), 3-year-old Fillies, 1 1/16 Miles (dirt)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. French Kiss (KY), 117, Joe M. Johnson
2. Pure Clan (KY), 121, Julien R. Leparoux
3. Eight Belles (KY), 121, Ramon A. Dominguez
4. Alina (KY), 121, Luis S. Quinonez