06/27/2008 12:00AM

Cloud hangs over Jones's huge year

Email

Larry Jones won the Kentucky Oaks, finished second in the Kentucky Derby, and is well on his way to having statistically the most successful season in his 27-year training career.

But Jones, who is winning races at Delaware Park at a 42 percent clip, is having difficulty enjoying life as a horse trainer these days. First, Jones came under fire from animal rights activists after his filly Eight Belles suffered fatal injuries galloping out following her second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Last week, Jones was served notice by Delaware racing officials that one of his horses, Stones River, tested positive for having an overage of the bronchial dilator clenbuterol in his system following a June 8 allowance win at Delaware Park.

And, Jones says, his mailbox is filled with more than its share of hate mail these days.

"We won the Kentucky Oaks and it seems like decades ago," Jones said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Delaware Park. "We did not get to enjoy that even a full day before the tragedy of Eight Belles. That overshadowed anything that Proud Spell has done. We've won a lot of races [at Delaware]. The more races we seem to win, the madder everybody gets.

"We've become a target for a lot of people," Jones added. "Every time I get mail you wonder whether you want to open it or not, whether it's hate mail or a sympathetic card. We got a whole lot more [hate mail] than I thought we should have. It's enough that everybody apparently does not like the cowboy hat or the guy that's under the cowboy hat."

Jones, his cowboy hat, and two of his best horses will be in New York on Saturday for a pair of Grade 1 stakes at Belmont Park. Jones will run Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell in the Mother Goose and the intriguing Solar Flare in the Suburban.

Jones has won six graded stakes this year, a personal one-year best for him. His 11 stakes wins are only three fewer than he had in 2006, when he won 14. In addition to Proud Spell and Solar Flare, Jones trains the multiple stakes winner Buy the Barrel, who is pointing to the $1 million Delaware Handicap on July 13. Samba's Run, the only 2-year-old Jones has started this year, won her debut by 5 3/4 lengths.

Through all the triumphs, though, the tragedy of Eight Belles remains a hovering cloud for Jones.

"I'll let you know when it quits hurting," Jones said. "I'm still reminded of it constantly."

The sadness Jones felt over the loss of his filly turned to anger when he began hearing about how he allegedly abused the filly leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Jones said he heard people saying on the radio that he gave the filly steroids and that he injected Eight Belles's ankle the Wednesday before the Derby.

"She wasn't given anything; here they say matter-of-factly that she couldn't have been that big without steroids," Jones said. "She was the highest-priced auction horse that ran in the Derby because she was big, and now we're being criticized our horse was big."

An autopsy performed on Eight Belles after the Derby showed no presence of steroids in her system.

Jones said he heard that People for Ethical Treatment of Animals wanted the Kentucky district attorney to file charges against him for giving Eight Belles the anti-inflammatory Butazolidin on the day before the race, something that is legal in Kentucky.

Jones believes that foul play was involved regarding Stones River, whose owner, Jim Squires, has been a vocal critic of the liberal use of race-day medication. The announcement of Stones River's positive came the same week that federal legislators held a hearing on drugs in horse racing.

"The thing is, somebody got us, no ifs, ands, or buts," said Jones, who added that he had never before had a positive. "Is it just coincidence that it's [Squires'] horse and me at this time? Yeah, right."

While Jones awaits the next step in the Stones River case, he is looking forward to Saturday, when he brings Proud Spell back to the races in the Mother Goose. Proud Spell was given a freshening after her five-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks, and now Jones has an ambitious schedule picked out that includes the Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama - all Grade 1 races.

"The little bit of time we had after the Oaks was good for her," Jones said. "She had three pretty tough races leading up to that; now she has a series of another three races in a relatively short period of time. She has trained wonderfully, and is doing everything the way you'd want her too. I'm expecting a big race from her on Saturday."

Jones will also run Solar Flare, an Argentine-bred son of Salt Lake who won a third-level allowance race at Delaware Park on June 3, his first start since Jan. 13.

"I thought it was a brilliant effort on his part," Jones said. "He came home real quickly; he finished full of run, which leads us to think the mile and a quarter is going to be to our liking. He's very laid-back, an easy horse to train. I think he'll handle whatever situation comes his way."

The trainer is trying to do that as well.