Trainer Larry Jones took it as a sign of better things to come when his Eight Belles drew the outside 12 post for the May 2 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), but all was not lost for the Kentucky-born trainer when his Proud Spell drew post 8 in the 1 1/8-mile race for the lilies on the first Friday in May.
“It looks like we got our sign on where we are going to run,” Jones said with a laugh after Eight Belles’ Oaks post position draw in the racing office at Churchill Downs.
Multiple stakes winner Eight Belles, owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, is cross entered in both the Oaks and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but the big, strapping daughter of Unbridled’s Song is expected to make a Run for the Roses unless she draws an outside post against the boys Wednesday. Proud Spell, although nominated to the Derby, is a confirmed Oaks starter.
Eight Belles is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite with Proud Spell listed at 7-2.
The $500,000 Oaks is the 10th race on Friday’s card at Churchill Downs with an approximate post time of 5:45 p.m. EDT. It will be shown live on ESPN 2 during a program that airs from 5-6 p.m.
Jones will be looking for his first Oaks win—and Derby win -- after watching his Island Sand finish second to Ashado in 2004 in the Oaks, and Hard Spun take the runner-up spot to Street Sense in last year’s Derby.
“This filly (Proud Spell) comes into it with a whole lot more on her resume," said Jones when asked to compare Proud Spell to Island Sand. “Island Sand had run for a claiming tag in her first start, and she had won a stakes in New York. We had a lot of issues once my owner bought her. It was ankle and feet issues, so I wasn’t able to train her a lot before I raced her in the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II). (Proud Spell) has never had an issue. She has already knocked off last year’s Eclipse Award-winning filly (Indian Blessing), and she has raced against the best in the country.
“You never want to get over confident,” Jones continued, “But, believe me, we have all the confidence in the world in Proud Spell to pull off the Oaks.”
Proud Spell, racing as a homebred for Brereton Jones of Airdrie Stud, enters the Oaks off a third-place effort over Keeneland’s Polytrack in the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) after beating Indian Blessing in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II). The daughter of Proud Citizen out of the Langfuhr mare Pacific Spell has a record of 4-2-1 from seven starts. She has earned $938,770.
Jones might be confident, but Proud Spell will have to get past a talented host of rivals, including grade I winners Country Star, Golden Doc A, and Little Belle as well as grade II winners Pure Clan and Bsharpsonata.
“The Oaks is what we are after,” said Bob Holthus, who conditions Pure Clan. “We are after that grade I win.”
The post positions for the Kentucky Oaks, with jockey and morning-line odds, include:
1—Golden Doc A (Kent Desormeaux, 12-1)
2—Absolutely Cindy (Julien Leparoux, 20-1)
3—Awesome Chic (Robby Albarado, 20-1)
4—Elusive Lady (Eibar Coa, 30-1)
5—Rasierra (Jamie Theriot, 50-1)
6—Country Star (Rafael Bejarano, 4-1)
7—Little Belle (Rajiv Maragh, 8-1)
8—Proud Spell (Gabriel Saez, 7-2)
9—A to the Croft (Calvin Borel, 20-1)
10—Bsharpsonata (Eric Camacho, 6-1)
11—Pure Clan (Edgar Prado, 6-1)
12—Eight Belles (Ramon Dominguez, 5-2)