03/04/2009 12:00AM

Filmmakers focus on Larry Jones


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Film producers John and Brad Hennegan are following up their critically acclaimed documentary "The First Saturday in May" with what they termed an "intimate portrait" of trainer Larry Jones. They began shooting the documentary last month, and expect to continue filming through the Breeders' Cup.

A release date has not yet been set for the untitled project.

Brad Hennegan, 37, said he and his brother, John, 40, first met Jones when he attended a screening of "The First Saturday in May" at Saratoga in August 2007. They said they were drawn to his down-to-earth personality in spite of his success. Jones had finished second in the Kentucky Derby that year with Hard Spun, and last year was second in the race again with Eight Belles, who sustained a catastrophic injury after the wire. Jones also won last year's Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell.

"We really liked him, saw what he went through with the whole Eight Belles thing, and heard he was retiring," Brad Hennegan said. "We thought, 'Wow, this would be a great, great story to follow.'

"He's been knocking on the door at the Derby the last couple of years and, lo and behold, has a couple of horses for the race this year."

Jones, who has said he will retire at the end of this year, trains early Derby favorite Old Fashioned as well as the highly regarded Friesan Fire. Both run next on March 14, with John Hennegan to be at Fair Grounds to follow Friesan Fire in the Louisiana Derby and Brad Hennegan to return to Oaklawn to capture Old Fashioned in the Rebel.

"In this day and age of the high-profile manager and coach in the NFL and collegiate sports, here we have a guy in our industry who is not only leaving at the top of the game, but also is doing the menial tasks," John Hennegan said. "He's willing to do chores and drive the van. We really want to focus on that aspect of him, as well as him being a family man. We see him as not driven by the bottom line. It's unique and inspiring."

The Hennegans followed six horses up to the 2006 Kentucky Derby for "The First Saturday in May," including the winner, Barbaro. Their film won an Eclipse Award, as well as awards from film festivals in Colorado, Georgia, and Texas.

"From our last picture, we weren't able to explore one barn, but this is an opportunity to do so," Brad Hennegan said. "It allows us to dig deep into one trainer's life. We think it's important for horse racing, and we think it's a fantastic story."

"We couldn't see not telling this," John Hennegan added. "We're self-financing to get it started, then hoping we can take on some sponsors."

Since the release of "The First Saturday in May," the brothers have done projects for such clients as the Breeders' Cup and are in pre-production on two non-racing projects.

Push to increase mount fees

The Jockeys' Guild is in negotiations with horsemen to increase losing mount fees for riders at several Southwest tracks, and the Arkansas Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association will discuss the subject at a general meeting Friday morning at Oaklawn.

The guild has also been negotiating with horsemen in Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Riders in Texas are awaiting the outcome of legislative efforts for gaming in that state before entering any negotiations.

Terry Meyocks, the guild's national manager, was at Oaklawn last weekend and said he was grateful for the productive discussions he had with the Arkansas HBPA, track management, and the Arkansas Racing Commission, which must approve any change in fees. In the last few weeks, he said, increases have gone through at Charles Town and Prairie Meadows in what has been an ongoing national project for the guild. Meyocks said other jurisdictions that have increased fees include New York, California, and Florida.

"We're trying to be fair with horsemen throughout the country," he said. "We've offered three different scales throughout the country, based on daily average purses.

"The jockeys have had only one increase since 1985, and that was in 2001. We're trying to take care of the jockey that rides three or four races a day."

Perry Compton, who is on the board of the guild, has been working on the issue at Oaklawn.

"All we want to do is get the bottom moved up, because basically, what we're trying to do is take care of the little guy," he said. "The leading riders that have the high win percentage that are riding all the best horses, it doesn't have as profound an effect on them as it does the little guy who is just trying to make a living.

"We've only had one $5 increase in the last five years. And in that time frame, everything has gone up."

Compton said that ideally he would like to see the losing mount fees at Oaklawn, which typically range from $50 to $65 depending on purse levels, raised to $80.

The matter is expected to come before the Arkansas Racing Commission on March 14.