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Jones, Eight Belles still in spotlight
BALTIMORE - Larry Jones, trainer of the ill-fated Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles, does not have a starter in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, but he will not be far from the glare of the media spotlight.
Jones will participate in two Saturday roundtable discussions - on ESPN and NBC - concerning the death of Eight Belles and the impact it has and may have on the racing industry. Both segments were taped prior to Saturday.
ESPN's panel, to be moderated by Joe Tessitore, includes Randy Moss, an analyst for ESPN, and Dr. Scott Palmer, a New Jersey-based equine surgeon who also works as an on-call veterinarian on racing telecasts. ESPN has programming on Saturday from 11 a.m. until noon on ESPN2, then from noon to 5 p.m. on ESPN, with the roundtable slotted for approximately 4 p.m.
The NBC roundtable will be led by Bob Costas and will include former jockey and NBC analyst Gary Stevens, noted equine veterinarian Larry Bramlage, NTRA CEO Alex Waldrop, and New York Times columnist William Rhoden, who was highly critical of the racing industry following the Derby. NBC's coverage begins at 4:30 p.m.
While Jones is still awaiting results of an autopsy that was performed on Eight Belles a few days after the race, he firmly believes that there were no signs that anything happened to the filly before the end of the race. Eight Belles fractured both front ankles while galloping out a quarter-mile past the wire.
"If she had an issue 50 yards from the wire she never knew it," Jones said. "And they could say what they want, all the adrenaline pumping and stuff and how she wouldn't know she was hurt. I've seen horses run under stress and I've had horses have condylar fractures in a race, and believe me they know it."
Jones said he was given several photographs of Eight Belles galloping out after the race and none display any signs of distress.
"I got one great photo of her about 50 yards from where she fell," Jones said. "The mare has her ears up, her stride, she's got her right front foot out past her nose. The only thing I noticed is she's on her wrong lead, which you don't want them to be on the turn. But as I've told everybody, this mare was not the most coordinated horse in the world as a 2-year-old and people act like I'm supposed to turn her into a ballet dancer."
Jones said as Eight Belles galloped out she was cross-firing, meaning she's on one lead in the front and another in the back.
Jones will have one horse to saddle on Preakness Day, Buy the Barrel in the Grade 2 Allaire duPont Distaff, the race immediately preceding the Preakness.
Proud Spell likely to Mother Goose
Earlier this week, Jones shipped Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell from Delaware Park to the Fair Hill training center a few miles away. She is stabled with about five other horses Jones keeps in a barn built there by Eight Belles owner Rick Porter.
Jones said he felt Proud Spell would benefit from the quieter atmosphere at Fair Hill. Jones also said that Proud Spell would most likely make her next start in the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont on June 28, rather than the Acorn on Belmont Stakes Day, June 7.
"I don't think a mile is her best game," Jones said, referring to the distance of the Acorn. "If she's tearing the barn down we'll go, but more than likely we'll run in the Mother Goose, Coaching Club, and Alabama."
The Coaching Club is run at Belmont on July 19 while the Alabama is at Saratoga on Aug. 16.
Dutrow hopes to better 'Bid'
Ten horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but then failed to win the Belmont Stakes, since Affirmed became the last horse to sweep the Triple Crown in 1978.
The first of those, Spectacular Bid, was widely expected to become the fourth Triple Crown winner of the 1970s, following Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, but the colt finished third behind Coastal and Golden Act as a huge favorite in the Belmont.
Rick Dutrow, the trainer of Preakness favorite Big Brown - the latest great hope to finally succeed Affirmed - had a connection to the Spectacular Bid crowd. Dutrow, now 48, was good friends and in the same age group with the jockey, Ronnie Franklin, as well as Doug and Gerald Delp, the sons of Spectacular Bid's trainer, Bud Delp. All of them were working at Maryland racetracks at the time.
"I was really into it," said Dutrow, whose late father, Dickie Dutrow, was a leading trainer in Maryland in the 1970s and an archrival of Bud Delp's. "Ronnie, Dougie, Gerald, we were all loving it. It was a lot of fun, until the horse got beat in the Belmont. But it was a very exciting time for all of us."
Like pretty much everyone else, Dutrow is amazed that, nearly 30 years later, no horse has been able to win the Triple Crown. With Big Brown, he is intent on fulfilling the destiny that eluded the great "Bid" and the nine subsequent would-be winners. The next step comes Saturday in the 133rd Preakness.
"Love to do it, babe," he said.
Zito a regular, others are not
Longshot Stevil will be Nick Zito's 19th Preakness starter, tying him for second on that list with the legendary Max Hirsch. D. Wayne Lukas leads all trainers with 32 Preakness starters.
Zito, who won this race in 1996 with Louis Quatorze, has had at least one Preakness starter in 15 of the last 18 runnings of the race. Conversely, his 12 colleagues this year have combined to start just 11 horses in the Preakness.
Dutrow is making his Preakness debut as are Reade Baker (Kentucky Bear), Patrick Gallagher (Yankee Bravo), Paulo Lobo (Gayego), Eddie Plesa Jr. (Hey Byrn), and Richard Schosberg (Giant Moon).
Riley Tucker represents Bill Mott's second Preakness starter. His first, Taylor's Special, finished fourth to Gate Dancer in 1984. The 24 years between Preakness starters is the third-longest gap in the last 100 years, according to the Preakness media guide. Only Henry S. Clark (35 years) and Bobby Frankel (27 years) went longer between their first and second Preakness runners.
Five jockeys with Preakness wins
Kent Desormeaux, the rider of big Brown, is one of five jockeys in this Preakness who have won the race. Desormeaux won aboard Real Quiet in 1998 - the day that many still remember, incidentally, for the major power outage that occurred at Pimlico during extremely hot weather.
The other jockeys in this 2008 running who previously have won the Preakness are Alex Solis, who won the 1986 running aboard Snow Chief when he was just 22; Mike Smith on Prairie Bayou in 1993; Jeremy Rose on Afleet Alex in 2005; and Robby Albarado on Curlin in 2007.
An omen for Hey Byrn
The saddle towel that Pimlico officials gave the connections of Hey Byrn was misspelled. It read Hey Bryn. Pimlico officials quickly got a new saddle towel to give trainer Eddie Plesa for the race, though he wore the misspelled one for training Thursday morning.
Two years ago, the saddle towel Bernardini wore in the Preakness read Bernadini. He won the race, better known for Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's catastrophic injury.
Dutrow, Zito skeptical of synthetics
Synthetic surfaces have been promoted as a way to cut down on injuries for racehorses, but trainers have had mixed feelings about them. Dutrow sent a small group of horses to Hollywood Park last fall to train over that track's Cushion Track surface, but said it was a bad experience.
"It ripped my horses apart," Dutrow said. "I couldn't wait to get out of there. Half my barn got suspensories or tendons."
Zito believes there has been a rush to judgment on synthetics, without proper evaluation.
"My thing right now is to try to protect the dirt surfaces as good as we can," Zito said.
Dutrow believes a good dirt track is superior, too.
"All you have to do is get a good trackman, take care of it, and race," Dutrow said.
Get your alibi ready
The Preakness has a fun prerace tradition - giving trainers a chance, publicly, to tell their alibis in advance. Prior to attending the annual Alibi Breakfast on Thursday morning at Pimlico, Zito, the trainer of Stevil, was asked if he had his alibi ready.
"Yeah," he said. "Big Brown."
Also at the breakfast, Dick Jerardi, a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and a contributor to Daily Racing Form, was honored by the Maryland Jockey Club with the Old Hilltop Award for career achievement in turf writing.
* Once again Pimlico is offering guaranteed pools on two pick fours on Preakness Day. There is a $250,000 guarantee on races 4 thorugh 7, and a $1 million guarantee on races 9 through 12, ending with the Preakness. Mutuel takeout on the pick fours is 14 percent.
* For horseplayers trying to make some money on the Preakness by keying Big Brown in 10-cent superfectas over a smorgasbord of longshots, forget it. The Maryland tracks are among the few in North America that still don't offer dime supers. The minimum remains $1.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee and Jay Privman