03/30/2009 11:00PM

Friesan Fire training up to Derby

Alexander Barkoff
Friesan Fire with trainer Larry Jones before his last start - a victory in the Louisiana Derby. The colt will have a lengthy seven-week layoff before the Kentucky Derby.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer Larry Jones will be entering uncharted territory when he starts Friesan Fire in next month's Kentucky Derby. No horse has won the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff since Needles in 1956, and Jones will attempt to do Needles one better when he runs leading Derby hopeful Friesan Fire on the first Saturday in May off a seven-week break.

"I don't have a problem going into it," Jones said Tuesday. "He's training exceptionally well, and unless he's just tearing the barn down and we can't sit on him that long, we intend to just train straight to the Derby with him."

Friesan Fire worked his way to near the top of the 3-year-old standings this spring by sweeping the Fair Grounds series of the Grade 3 Lecomte, Grade 3 Risen Star, and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 14. The Louisiana Derby left Jones with an awkward seven-week break until the Derby.

In recent years, trainers have been putting final Derby preps into their horses farther out than three or four weeks, which used to be the standard.

In 2006, Barbaro became the first horse in 50 years to win the Kentucky Derby off a layoff of five weeks or more following his win in the Florida Derby. And last year, Big Brown won the Derby off a layoff of five weeks, after also winning the Florida Derby.

Although winning a grueling 1 1/4-mile race like the Kentucky Derby off a seven-week layoff will not be easy, it is not unprecedented. In 1915, Regret, one of only three fillies ever to win the Derby, made her 3-year-old debut in the race. Exterminator in 1918 and Triple Crown winner Sir Barton in 1919 also made their first 3-year-old starts in the Derby.

Jones has first-hand experience bringing a fresh horse into the Derby. In 2007, he sent out Hard Spun to finish second in the race off a six-week layoff.

"We have raced them both approximately the same," Jones said of the pre-Kentucky Derby schedules of Friesan Fire and Hard Spun. "Friesan Fire has had seven races in a row since the start of his career. It's not like he's not fit. We feel very comfortable with it. We feel like he's sitting on a big race. I don't know if I've got two more big races in him just like that, so we're going to take our shot in the Derby."

Friesan Fire earned a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure for his 7 1/2-length win in the Louisiana Derby. He is a strapping son of A.P. Indy and will be making his first start beyond 1 1/16 miles in the Kentucky Derby. Friesan Fire races for Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm.

Old Fashioned in maintenance work

Old Fashioned, another leading Kentucky Derby candidate for Jones, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Oaklawn on Tuesday morning in preparation for the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 11.

"Old Fashioned worked well," Jones said. "We just wanted to go out and stretch his legs. It was just a good maintenance work, and we'll get a little more serious next Monday."

Old Fashioned worked after the renovation break, on a track that had been upgraded to muddy. Clockers caught him galloping out six furlongs in 1:13. Terry Thompson sat chilly throughout the drill and will replace Ramon Dominguez in the saddle for the Arkansas Derby.

Old Fashioned suffered the first defeat of his career in last month's Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn, when second to Win Willy.