Should Eight Belles run in the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands instead of the previous day’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), jockey Gabe Saez will have the mount, trainer Larry Jones said April 24.
Eight Belles, owned by Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, has been ridden in her last two starts by Ramon Dominguez. But with uncertainty over which race she would run in, Porter and Jones allowed Dominguez to take a mount in the Derby. He will pilot Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) winner Monba for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Jones has two fillies nominated to the Triple Crown and both have been mentioned as possible Derby starters. However the other filly, Brereton Jones’ homebred Proud Spell, by Proud Citizen, seems more likely to run in the Oaks. Proud Spell has been ridden in all of her races by Saez.
"We’re 90% sure that Proud Spell will go in the Oaks," Jones said. "If Eight Belles goes in the Derby, we wanted Gabe to ride her."
Jones said the plan is still for Eight Belles to be entered in both the Oaks and Derby. A decision on which race she will run in will be made after seeing the Derby post position draw on Wednesday. The Oaks is drawn Tuesday. Should she run in the Oaks, Dominguez would ride her.
Besides being aboard Proud Spell in all seven of her starts, Saez has ridden Eight Belles four times, winning twice. He was on the daughter of Unbridled's Song when she broke her maiden last year by 10 lengths, and was up when she won her first start this year by 15 lengths.
Eight Belles has won five of nine lifetime, but is unbeaten in her four starts this season.
"I feel very confident every time I put Gabe on a horse," Jones said of the young rider.
The two fillies will make the short trip from Lexington to Louisville, Ky., April 25 and will have their final workouts April 27. Saez will be the work rider for both fillies.