Trainer Larry Jones scratched the filly Eight Belles from the $581,650 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) (VIDEO), and then proceeded to win the race with Proud Spell at Churchill Downs May 2.
Jones entered both fillies in the Oaks, but decided to scratch Eight Belles and instead run her in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Proud Spell, a homebred daughter of Proud Citizen owned by the former governor of Kentucky, Brereton Jones, sat in the perfect stalking position under young rider Gabe Saez, and then exploded down the stretch to win by an easy five lengths in front of a crowd of 100,046. Proud Spell was the lukewarm 3-1 choice in a field of 10.
Jones owns Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky., stands the sire of the Oaks winner, and also owns her dam, the Langfuhr mare Pacific Spell. Proud Spell is a member of the first crop by Proud Citizen.
Bsharpsonata made the lead out of the gate and was quickly followed by Ashland (gr. I) winner Little Belle. Saez put Proud Spell in third and she was bounding along on the sealed main track made sloppy by persistent afternoon rains. It was all the 20-year-old rider could do to keep Proud Spell from taking the lead, but after a quarter in :23.73, he let her move into second behind Bsharpsonata and jockey Eric Camacho.
They went the half in :48.86 and six furlongs in 1:12.95. Saez had Proud Spell on the outside through the turn and when they straightened away for home, she made the lead. From there, the race was only on for the other placings. She finished comfortably in front of Little Belle, who had moved into third on the turn and finished best of the rest. The runner-up was three quarters of a length in front of the show horse, Pure Clan, who had a head on Golden Doc A. Bsharpsonata finished another head behind in fifth. Then came second choice Country Star, A to the Croft, Rasierra, Awesome Chic and Absolutely Cindy.
They ran the mile in 1:37.36 and came home in 1:50.01.
"This is one of the up-and-coming young riders in the country," Brereton Jones said of Saez. "He's fearless; nothing bothers him."
“I was just doing my best job, you know, tried to put her in a good position," Saez said. "She broke sharp and I put her in the race, staying second, third ... a good position. The other filly on the lead, I tried to stay behind her.”
Proud Spell entered the Oaks off a third-place finish in the Ashland at Keeneland April 5 when she did not relish the Polytrack surface.
"She did not work well at Keeneland," Larry Jones said. "She was very courageous in the Ashland. It was not a bad race but we were very glad to get back on dirt. Gabe came back after the Ashland and told us she did not like that track."
She won her first three starts at 2 and ran second to champion Indian Blessing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), her only previous try on an off-track.
"We were very fortunate with this filly because she has never been passed in her career," the trainer noted. "We felt like if we can run the speed down, she would be in good shape. This filly can run all day long. She is just a quality filly."
Jones said he felt the off-track was of no benefit.
“We don’t think it helped us. We didn’t like it in the Breeders’ Cup (at Monmouth). She can handle any kind of surface and actually Churchill’s track when it gets wet is very good.”
This year at 3, she finished second in her first start, the grade III Silverbulletday Stakes, behind Indian Blessing, and then turned the tables on Indian Blessing by beating her handily in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), the race preceding the Ashland
There was a late scratch from the Oaks when trainer John Kimmel took out Elusive Lady because of the sloppy track.
With the $342,596 from the Oaks, Proud Spell increased her earnings to $1,281,366. She has five wins in eight starts.
It was the first Oaks win for Jones and Saez, who will team up with Eight Belles in the Derby. Only two trainers have won the Oaks and Derby in the same year, H.J. Thompson in 1933 and Ben Jones in both 1949 and 1952. The most recent rider to win both races the same year was Jerry Bailey in 1993 aboard Dispute in the Oaks and Sea Hero in the Derby.
Proud Spell paid $8.80, $4.80 and $3.20.
Darley Stable’s Little Belle, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, took advantage of a ground-saving trip to run second and returned $6.40 and $4. IEAH Stable, Lewis Lakin and Pegasus Holding Group Stables’ Pure Clan rallied for third under Julien Leparoux for a $3.80 payoff.