The Kentucky Derby

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Charlie Riedel/AP
Trainer Larry Jones

Popular Trainer Larry Jones Returns to Kentucky Derby for Final Time

April 30, 2009 03:45 PM
by Denis Cummings
Larry Jones, trainer of Kentucky Derby runners-up Hard Spun and Eight Belles, enters what will likely be the final Derby of his career with 5-1 Friesan Fire.

Jones Preparing for Final Derby Before Retirement

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Kentucky farmer Larry Jones began training racehorses 1982, and for much of the next 25 years was unknown to most horse racing fans. He entered the national spotlight at the 2007 Kentucky Derby as the trainer of eventual runner-up Hard Spun, and instantly became a media favorite.

“He was outspoken, witty, handled all the dumb questions and, every bit as important, wore a different cowboy hat every day,” writes Vic Ziegal of the New York Daily News.
Jones returned to Churchill Downs the following year with two star fillies: Proud Spell, who won the Kentucky Oaks, and Eight Belles, the only filly in the Derby field. Eight Belles ran valiantly, finishing second to Big Brown; however, as she was slowing down after the finish, she broke down and had to be euthanized on the track.

In the media coverage that followed, some unjustly accused Jones of injecting Eight Belles with illegal medication or mistreating her. In reality, Jones refuses to give his horses steroids and rarely uses legal medication as part of his hands-on training approach that is part old-fashioned and part new age.

Soon after the Derby, one of Jones’ horses tested positive for a banned substance; Jones, and many others in the racing industry, believed that somebody had injected the horse to discredit him. Jones believes another one of his horses was tampered with later after he discovered the horse’s mouth covered in blisters.
“I said if someone has poisoned this pony, he’s paying the price for something someone is mad at me about,” Jones stated. “This horse has not done anything to anybody. Then I knew that night I would quit instantly.”

Four months later, at the top of his career, Jones announced that he would be retiring by the end of 2009. The 52-year-old cited a desire to spend more time with his family, and expressed frustration with the life of a big-time trainer.

“I have to become a manager rather than being a trainer. That’s what I want to do, is train the horse,” he said, adding that he could return to racing on a smaller scale. He owns horses on his Kentucky farm, and hinted that he would be willing to return to training if one of his broodmares produced a promising horse.

Jones continued training his 2009 Derby hopefuls, but he was forced to scratch Old Fashioned, one of the early Derby favorites, less than a month before the race. His hopes of winning the Derby in what is likely his final chance now rests on Friesan Fire, a 5-1 shot coming off a dominating victory in March.

However, Rick Porter, owner of Hard Spun, Eight Belles and Friesan Fire, doesn’t believe that Jones is done with horse racing. He told the Daily News, “Retire. Getting out of the game. I don’t care what the hell he’s saying. He’ll be back next spring, when the new 2-year-olds come around.”

Analysis: Friesan Fire’s chances

Friesan Fire, the son prolific sire A.P. Indy, has won each of the three races he competed in this year, the last a dominating 7 1/4-length victory in the March 14 Louisiana Derby.

Friesan Fire will enter the Derby on a seven-week layoff and no horse is known to have won the Derby on such a long layoff. Jones, who also entered Hard Spun on a six-week layoff, explained, “He was so sharp. I could just tell he was trying to get ready to peak on us. So we’re just sitting on him, but it looks like he’s sitting well. I’m not sorry with our decision right now.”

Friesan Fire showed that he was ready for the Derby in an April 27 workout at Churchill Downs in which he ran five furlongs in 57 4/5 seconds. “I think he’s ready, and hopefully, if this works for the Derby, then we’re going to be in really good shape for the Triple Crown, because we’ll have a fresher horse than most everybody else,” said Jones.
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