01/08/2013 7:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: Believe You Can

photo by: Tom Keyser

After three straight wins as a juvenile, capped by the Grade 3 Tempted Stakes, expectations were high when Believe You Can made her 3-year-old seasonal debut for trainer Larry Jones in the Silverbulletday Stakes.

Believe You Can sped right the front under new pilot Rosie Napravnik and led her rivals on a merry chase, prompting Jones to presciently remark, “She’s got a world of talent. We think this filly’s got a lot of upturn to her.”

The next upturn came two starts later in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, when Believe You Can and heavily favored Summer Applause separated themselves from the rest of the field and fought tooth and nail through the stretch. Holding firm, Believe You Can prevailed narrowly and confirmed her status as a solid contender for the Kentucky Oaks.

“We hadn’t been trying to press her for her life, but we knew that this time we had to get her ready, and we stepped it up on her a little bit,” Jones recalled.

Believe You Can completed her Oaks preparations with a sizzling five-furlong workout in the mud and was primed to run the race of her life at Churchill Downs on May 4.

“We knew this filly was going to give her best,” Jones said. “She had that ‘wow’ thing going, which you need to win this kind of race. I really think the [Kentucky] Derby and Oaks are the two biggest races in the world.”

Before an Oaks Day throng of 112,552 and on a track slightly dampened by a late-afternoon storm that pummeled Louisville and delayed racing for nearly an hour, Believe You Can lost her footing briefly at the start, but recovered and took up the chase just behind early leader Broadway’s Alibi, who had won four straight races by more than 32 lengths. Believe You Can finally wrested the lead a furlong from home and inexorably edged away beneath Napravnik, who became the first female rider to win the Oaks in its 138-year history.

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” said owner Brereton C. Jones – an Eclipse Award finalist for top breeder in 2011 and again in 2012 – who bred the mare El Fasto to Proud Citizen, one of the stallions he stands at his Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky. “It’s not Brereton Jones. It’s Larry Jones and his team and the staff at Airdrie that makes this.”

It was the second Kentucky Oaks win for the “Jones Boys,” whose Proud Spell captured the 2008 running en route to an Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old filly.

Following an eventful third-place finish in the Mother Goose, Believe You Can was pointing toward a start in the Alabama, but the decision was made to give her a break.

“There was nothing physically wrong with her. It’s just that ever since we broke her as a yearling, she had been in constant training, because she was running so well and she did not appear to need it,” her trainer explained.

Believe You Can returned to training in December at Fair Grounds, where she is expected to launch her 4-year-old campaign.