As the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) approaches, it looks more and more likely that trainer Larry Jones will race Fox Hill Farms’ striking filly Eight Belles against the boys.
“The owner made it real easy--he said that’s what we are doing,” said Jones. “We are just going to see what kind of post we draw.”
Should Eight Belles run on Saturday, she will provide Jones with his second Derby starter. Last year he conditioned Hard Spun , who ran a credible second behind Street Sense and was also owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms.
“Hopefully, nobody thinks we are back just so we can say we are in it,” said Jones. “We really do belong here. Everybody can get to the Derby once just because they get the right horse, but once you get there twice or maybe more, then at least maybe you have a little clue about what it takes to get here.”
A Kentucky native, Jones has a history of being successful with fillies. In addition to Eight Belles, he trains fellow grade II winner Proud Spell, who finished second in last year’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). Both fillies are entered in the May 2 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Whether or not Eight Belles wins, or even runs, in the Derby, her 51-year-old trainer respects the power of the emotions that come with having a horse under consideration for the Run for the Roses.
“I thought the Derby was just another race,” said Jones. “I thought we handled everything real well until we came out of the stall with Hard Spun to go over, and then I realized ‘oh this is the Derby.’ We had a little anxiety attack there.
“Angel Cordero tells me it is going to happen every time I go. He said ‘it is another horse race until they play my Old Kentucky Home, and then it is never just another horse race.' He is in the Hall of Fame and I am not, so I am going to take his word for it.”
Considering Jones’ success with fillies, Hard Spun was an anomaly in the sense that he is a colt. Jones’ other top runners include grade I winner Island Sand, who finished second in the 2004 Oaks, as well as grade II winners Ruby’s Reception and Josh’s Madelyn.
“I train fillies who run on the dirt,” Jones joked. “That’s what I do.”
Jones and his wife, Cindy, work closely together in their 20 horse operation. They live in Henderson, Ky., but split time between Oaklawn Park in Arkansas in the winter and Delaware and Kentucky the remainder of the year.
In the past, Jones was a commercial farmer in his hometown of Hopkinsville, Ky., where he grew corn, tobacco, and soy beans as well as raised cattle and hogs. He took out his trainer’s license in 1982.
Although running a filly in the Derby is not common place, perhaps history is on Jones’ side this year. While he is bringing a large, talented gray filly to the race, one barn over, trainer Louis Roussel III is preparing Recapturetheglory, who he co-owns with Ronnie Lamarque. The pair also campaigned champion Risen Star, who ran second behind Winning Colors in the 1988 Kentucky Derby.
“I told Mr. Lamarque had it not been for a gray filly, he had a Triple Crown winner,” said Jones. “I said, ‘man, I hate for a gray filly to spoil him again 20 years later.’ Maybe that is the angle: if Louie Roussel is in the Derby, bring a gray filly, and you can win.”