04/29/2012 2:21PM

Churchill Downs: Larry Jones sees similarities between Proud Spell, Believe You Can

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Larry Jones notes that his filly Believe You Can (above) turned in the same sort of fast workout Sunday as Proud Spell did before winning the 2002 Kentucky Oaks.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It was a business-as-usual Sunday for Larry Jones at Churchill Downs.

Jones-trained horses are known for posting brilliant works before the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, and that’s exactly what Believe You Can did, working a bullet five furlongs just after the morning renovation break.

Jones himself is known for constantly fooling around with some kind of horse or other, and an hour-and-a-half after the Believe You Can work, that’s exactly what Jones was doing at barn 35 on the Churchill backstretch. A 23-month-old blue-roan horse raised on a vast tract of pasture in South Dakota had been purchased and picked up in Arkansas last month. The creature was spending his fifth day at the racetrack, and Jones, intent on turning the horse into a stable pony, was taking the late morning to teach the youngster what it was like to spend time around humans who intended to ride him.  

“He’s got 25 years to figure this out,” Jones said, approvingly noting the relative comfort the newcomer already felt in Jones’ s presence.

Before mounting up and riding the pony-to-be around the shed row, Jones took time to note the parallels between Proud Spell, Jones’ s 2008 Oaks winner, and Believe You Can, his hopeful this season. Both fillies are Brereton Jones homebreds by Proud Citizen, who stands at Jones’s Airdrie Stud. The Sunday before the Oaks, Proud Spell worked five furlongs in 58.20 seconds, and the Sunday before this year’s Oaks, Believe You Can went five-eighths in 58.40. (That was the official track clocking; Daily Racing Form timed her in 57.90.)

“That was almost identical to Proud Spell’s last work before the Oaks,” Jones said. “We’re really, really happy about the way she went.”

As Believe You Can  rolled through the stretch under retired jockey Larry Melancon, Jones watched from 100 yards behind while galloping Derby hopeful Mark Valeski over the muddy Churchill surface at a robust clip. Jones said Mark Valeski, second in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, moved through the mud better Sunday than he has  gotten over a wet surface in the past.

“That’s really the best he’s ever handled this kind of track,” said Jones.

Mark Valeski is scheduled to work Monday morning, and Jones said the breeze is no mere formality on the way to a start in the Derby.  

“He’s not 100-percent in the Derby yet,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re shooting for, but he has to show me tomorrow he’s better than he’s ever been before.”

Jones has started three other horses in the Derby, finishing second with Eight Belles and Hard Spun, and most recently 18th with Derby favorite Friesan Fire. Mark Valeski emerged from relative obscurity this winter at Fair Grounds and has yet to win a stakes, and compared to his previous Derby weeks, the Jones barn will be quiet in coming days.

“This horse looks like the least shot of any of the horses we’ve brought here before, but he actually has about the same numbers that Hard Spun had coming in,” Jones said.  

Absent from the Jones barn right now is the stable’s leading assistant, Jones’s wife Cindy. Earlier this month, Cindy Jones got trampled by a strapping yearling much like the blue-roan horse Jones is teaching to pony. Cindy was standing right next to the horse when he spooked, knocked her over, and stepped on her, breaking her arm and four ribs. Jones, though, reported Sunday that his wife’s recovery is going well. The ribs don’t hurt every time she breathes anymore, the broken arm is higher up on her limb than a previous fracture than has troubled her for years, and Cindy Jones hopes to make it to the racetrack on Wednesday.