05/01/2008 11:00PM

Proud Spell dominates in Oaks

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One big one down, another bigger one to go. The calculated gamble that trainer Larry Jones took by running Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby - and leaving only Proud Spell for the 134th Kentucky Oaks - worked to sweet perfection Friday when Proud Spell splashed to a five-length victory in the filly classic at Churchill Downs.

Before an ontrack crowd of 100,046, and following a steady rain that hit several hours beforehand, Proud Spell stalked front-running Bsharpsonata from the start of the 1 1/8-mile race, then forged to the lead approaching the eighth pole and swiftly drew off. Little Belle, always near the pace, continued resolutely to finish second, another three-quarters of a length before late-running Pure Clan.

Proud Spell, by Proud Citizen out of Pacific Spell, returned $8.80 as a lukewarm favorite after finishing in 1:50.01 over a sloppy and sealed track.

For Brereton C. Jones, the former Kentucky governor who bred and owns the filly, the triumph was perhaps the greatest in his many years in the horse business. "Obviously, we couldn't be more excited," he said. "She has a tremendous heart."

For Larry Jones (no relation), the Oaks vindicated his decision to scratch Eight Belles as the morning-line favorite and save her for the Derby. "We're very honored to be in this position," he said. "This filly's just very good. What can I say? We've had no issues whatsoever with her."

As for saving Eight Belles for the Derby, he added: "We felt like we had a really good shot to win the Oaks without her. We're still live for tomorrow. We're just proud to get the first half done."

For Gabriel Saez, the 20-year-old Panamanian who came to the United States just two years ago, the Oaks also was easily the biggest victory of his rising career.

He never had a straw in his path after guiding Proud Spell into a contending position.

"I tried to do the best job I can," said Saez. "I tried to put her in a perfect spot. Thank God I won the race."

Brereton Jones said afterward that Saez is fearless, adding, "One day he will be in the Hall of Fame."

After Pure Clan, the order of finish was Golden Doc A, Bsharpsonata, Country Star, A to the Croft, Rasierra, Awesome Chic, and Absolutely Cindy. Elusive Lady was scratched.

Proud Spell has been a major factor in her division since last year, when she won her first three starts before finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. She then ran three times at 3, finishing second in the Silverbulletday Stakes, winning the Fair Grounds Oaks, and finishing third behind Little Belle and Bsharpsonata in the Ashland over Polytrack at Keeneland.

The winner's share from the total purse of $581,650 was $342,596, bringing Proud Spell's bankroll to $1,281,366.