Owner Rick Porter has always known Eight Belles is a solid contender – but he’s thinking about putting the 3-year-old filly’s class and stamina to the ultimate test May 3. Porter said April 13, if all goes well, the daughter of Unbridled’s Song will be entered in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Plans in Thoroughbred racing can change at a moment’s notice, but three weeks before the Derby, Porter and trainer Larry Jones remained cautiously optimistic about the filly’s chances at making the gate on the first Saturday in May. Racing under the red and white colors of Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, Eight Belles is nominated to both the Derby and the May 2 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), and the owner plans to enter both races if circumstances allow.
“Obviously, the (April 12 prep races) were a part of the decision-making process,” Porter said. “I’m going to get the (Ragozin) numbers on the top 20 horses, along with the past performances, and sit down and analyze them with Larry. But more importantly, Larry will be in Lexington April 15 and he’ll start getting on her to see how aggressively she’s training and whether he thinks she’s sitting on an improvement.”
Eight Belles, bred in Kentucky by Robert Clay and Serengeti Stable, is out of the Dixieland Bandmare Away. She has won her past four starts by a combined margin of 30 1/2 lengths, including her most recent score April 6 in the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park.
“Larry will know best of all, and if she’s doing well and Larry tells me that he thinks she’s still on the improve and sitting on big race, there’s only one thing that has both of us concerned,” Porter said. “She doesn’t get out of the gate real fast and in a 20-horse field., if she happens to draw the outside post position, she’ll be at a great disadvantage going into the first turn.”
Porter said he still has to review the competition for the Derby as it stands after April 12, but that a long-term plan would have Eight Belles at least entering the Derby, should everything fall into place.
“We know she’ll get the distance, number one, and we know she has a lot of heart,” he said. “She can run on the front, she can stalk and come from off the pace… she’s a very talented filly and with the competition out there, with the colts this year, she fits right in with the top three or four 3-year-olds in America. Based on her talent, her ability, and her versatility, we think she belongs and can compete with colts at the very top end. We wouldn’t run her if didn’t think we could win (the Derby).”
Eight Belles currently has graded stakes earnings of $308,650, which places her among the top 20 horses on the Kentucky Derby graded earnings list.
Jason Shandler contributed to this story