07/11/2008 11:00PM

Proud Spell bounces back in Oaks

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STANTON, Del. - One way or another, trainer Larry Jones knew he was going to win the Delaware Oaks.

Jones had jockey Mario Pino put 29-1 longshot Maren's Meadow on the lead, while Gabriel Saez sat patiently in third with 1-5 favorite Proud Spell.

"I liked my spot with either horse," said Jones. "I just didn't know which one was going to win."

Proud Spell, coming back just two weeks after enduring a horrible trip in the Mother Goose at Belmont Park, dug down and put away a stubborn African Violet to win Saturday's Grade 2, $500,300 Oaks by three-quarters of a length and pay $2.60.

Well aware that Weathered had stolen the local prep for the 57th Delaware Oaks last month, Jones instructed Pino to go full speed ahead with Maren's Meadow, winner of the Grade 3 Bourbonette at Turfway Park.

"If anybody was going to steal the race this time," Jones said, "it was going to be Maren's Meadow."

Jones said his only concern was whether Saez would be able to find room for Proud Spell to launch her rally.

"I was worried we might get shut down," Jones said. "That's what happened at Belmont. We had no place to run."

Proud Spell stumbled at the start, finished second, and was disqualified and placed third in the Mother Goose.

"That race was a meltdown," Jones added. "He was actually lucky to stay on her after she stumbled so badly."

This time, Saez had no traffic problems. As Maren's Meadow gave way to African Violet, fading to fourth, Proud Spell moved three wide to challenge, got within a head of African Violet at the eighth pole, and edged away late while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.34. Shes All Eltish finished third, two lengths behind African Violet.

Jones said that unlike his other star 3-year-old filly, the late Eight Belles, Proud Spell has to work a lot harder to get the job done.

"Eight Belles won because she had exceptional talent. Proud Spell is my blue collar horse. She wins because she's so intent on winning."

Any doubts Jones had about bringing back Proud Spell on short rest were erased when he galloped the daughter of Proud Citizen the day before the Oaks. "If I wasn't planning on running her before, I knew I had to after I got on her [Friday] morning. She breezed so well."

Jones said Proud Spell will be pointed to the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on Aug. 16 at Saratoga.

Dick Memorial: Palmilla scores at 20-1

After watching his 5-year-old mare Palmilla finish behind Rosinka four times since March, trainer Jonathan Sheppard wasn't confident the outcome would be much different in the $300,300 Robert G. Dick Memorial.

"I wasn't really expecting to win," Sheppard said. "I was hoping to get a little piece of it with a decent effort."

The betting public agreed with Sheppard, sending off Palmilla at 20-1 as the longest shot in a field of six older fillies and mares in the Grade 3, 1 3/8-mile turf stakes, while pounding defending champ Rosinka to 2-5.

Two weeks after she was unable to do better than finish third in a stakes restricted to Pennsylvania-breds at Philadelphia Park, Palmilla ($42.20) roared past a struggling Rosinka to score by 3 1/2 lengths. Rosinka, who held a two-length lead with a furlong remaining, was nosed out for second by 5-1 second choice Herboriste. The winning time was 2:04.09.

Jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. said Palmilla relished a turf course that was softened by watering done by Delaware's track maintenance crew.

"At the quarter pole I thought we had a chance," said Homeister, whose only previous ride on Palmilla produced a fourth-place finish behind Rosinka in last month's John Rooney Memorial. "I hit her once and she really accelerated."

Sheppard said Palmilla, who has now won 4 of 13 lifetime starts, might be considered for one of the long-distance turf stakes at Saratoga.

* Five Steps ($6.60), sent to the lead by J.D. Acosta after coming from off the pace in his last five starts, cruised to a 5 3/4-length victory in the $100,000 R.R.M. Carpenter Jr. Memorial Stakes. A 7-year-old trained by Chris Grove for owner William Harris, Five Steps has now won 5 of 6 starts, including three stakes, since he returned from a break of 21 months in July 2007. He ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.44.