05/02/2008 11:00PM

Jones: 'She went out a champion'


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At a press conference two hours after his filly Eight Belles was euthanized on the racetrack after fracturing both front ankles following her second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, a choked up Larry Jones said: "She went out in a blaze of glory, she went out a champion. We're heartbroke. We're going to miss her."

Jones had won the Kentucky Oaks the previous afternoon with Proud Spell. He also trained Hard Spun, who finished second in the 2007 Derby.

Jones said he watched Eight Belles cross the finish and gallop out around the turn and was unaware that she had been injured.

"She hit the wire running, I watched her gallop out around the turn with her ears up following Big Brown, and she did not appear to be in any distress," said Jones. "At that point we were kind of high fivin' and thinking this was deja vu like last year. I had trouble getting through the crowd to get to the racetrack and when we finally got to the track I saw Kent (Desormeaux) coming back and you could tell from the look on his face he was a little solemn. It was just not like he'd won the Kentucky Derby. Then I heard a horse had broken down and figured it must have been one of the ones who'd run poorly, and then someone said, 'That's your jock riding back on the pony with Donna Brothers.' "

And when Jones finally got to his rider, Gabriel Saez, he learned the bad news.

"He told me, 'Mr. Larry they put her down,' " said Jones. "And I thought, how do you put a horse down like this? We're used to trying to save them. I caught a ride in the ambulance to where she was lying on the racetrack and when I saw her I knew there was no way of her being saved."

Jones says he didn't know what caused the injury, but that it didn't have anything to do with her racing against males for the first time in her career. Nor did he blame the racetrack, which was soaked by rains on Friday and early Saturday morning but was rated fast by post time for the Derby.

"I see no reason for this," said Jones. "It happened a quarter of a mile after the race. If she was under a little stress finishing the race, was losing ground and looked like she was in distress, I would have second-guessed myself severely and kicked myself in the pants. She went into the race the best she's ever gone into any race in her life, she was so calm in the paddock, so confident. I know we're probably going to get criticized and second-guessed by somebody who'll come up with the idea she shouldn't have been in there, but it wasn't in the race this happened. She could have done this racing against Shetland ponies. All she had to do was pull up and come back and we'd be happy. Unfortunately that just didn't happen."

Jones choked up again when talking about footage that appeared on the ESPN broadcast earlier in the day showed him exercising Eight Belles here this week.

"She's been our family, she's been with us for a year and that was my last ride on her," he said while choking up briefly. "Losing animals isn't fun. It's not supposed to happen. We're going to miss her."