Trainer Larry Jones doesn’t have a horse in the May 17 Preakness (gr. I), but he is at the track to run horses in stakes Friday and Saturday. Not surprisingly, he is still being asked questions about the tragic breakdown of Eight Belles.
The Unbridled's Song filly broke both front ankles while galloping out following the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and was euthanized on the track. The incident has brought much attention to the sport in the past two weeks.
Jones has felt considerable stress since the accident and has conducted dozens and dozens of interviews--for television, radio, print, and online outlets.
Friday morning at Pimlico, Jones said he has found solace from two sources—the overwhelming support from fellow horsemen and his strong belief in God.
"I’ve had a lot of calls from trainers and jockeys, and at Delaware Park (where Jones is based for the summer), people have stopped by the barn and stopped me in the paddock," Jones said. "They have all been very supportive.
"People have been compassionate and told us to be strong," Jones said, referring to himself and his wife, Cindy, who works alongside him in the barn every day. "Many people have told me they are proud of the way we have handled it."
Jones spoke about an uplifting story the week prior to the Derby, when Western Oregon University softball players Sara Tucholsky injured her knee after hitting her first homerun and was carried around the bases by two players from the opposing team.
"That softball player, she’s an athlete, just like Eight Belles was an athlete," Jones said. "That girl sprained her knee, and that doesn’t mean her coach is a bad coach, and it doesn’t mean her parents are bad parents. Athletes suffer injuries."
Human athletes, Jones said, can lie still when you tell them to, but horses "they want to stand up; they will thrash around."
Jones said he has relied heavily on his faith to get him through each day of the past two weeks.
"Nothing has ever hurt me more," the trainer said. "This is the greatest tragedy of my life…the way it happened, on television, in front of a lot of people. I hated that."
Jones said he asked for a sign when deciding whether to run Rick Porter's Eight Belles in the Derby or Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), and when he drew the outside in the Oaks, that was the signal.
Following the breakdown, Jones said one day at 2 a.m. he was reading the Bible and asked why he had to lose his filly. "God let me know she wasn’t my filly, she was his filly, and she still is."
The autopsy report, released May 15, showed Eight Belles had no pre-existing bone conditions that would have led to the breakdown. Jones has asked for a complete drug screening, which officials of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority have told him is not necessary.
"I have to do it," the Hopkinsville, Ky., native said. "People are attacking our reputation. I’ve heard it said that she had to be on steroids because she was so big. I’ve heard that someone ‘knew’ I injected her ankles.
"The veterinarian never entered her stall until Oaks day to give her Bute and on Derby day to give her Lasix and Amacar (an adjunct bleeder medication)."
Above all else, Jones said, is that he and his staff "have comfort in that we know we did everything right."