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Proud Spell heading to Kentucky
Larry Jones is in the process of relocating much of his Fair Grounds string to Kentucky, and among those slated to ship north to Keeneland on Monday is Proud Spell. She leaves after earning her connections a pretty trophy by winning the Fair Grounds Oaks last Saturday. In so doing she became the first horse to beat Indian Blessing, last year's champion 2-year-old filly.
Proud Spell, Jones said Tuesday morning, had exited her 2 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2, $400,000 race in great physical shape.
"She may have come out of this race as well as any race she's run," he said. "As of right now, we couldn't be happier."
Proud Spell walked the shed row for the third straight day Tuesday morning. Wednesday, she was scheduled to be back on the track for light exercise, but Proud Spell won't breeze again until she's settled in at Keeneland. It's there that Proud Spell will almost certainly make her next start, in the Ashland Stakes on April 5. If she runs well, and if things go along smoothly for the awesomely talented Eight Belles at Oaklawn Park, Jones could have two fillies for the Kentucky Oaks this year.
"Hard Spun last year, I don't even know how that happened," said Jones, who always keeps his sense of humor close at hand. "We've always been good with the fillies. I don't know how we got that colt in there. I can't even train a colt."
As a matter of fact, Jones won a two-turn maiden race later on Saturday's card with a colt named Proud Kentuckian, who took a while to figure things out, but was very sharp in victory. Proud Kentuckian is slated to make his next start in an allowance race at Keeneland.
Jones said that any horse racing in the coming days at Fair Grounds would soon thereafter be boarding a van to ship north. By the meet's final week later this month, he will be down to a handful in New Orleans. But Jones's first season stabled at Fair Grounds has been a rousing success, from Proud Spell on down, and he plans to have an even greater presence here next year.
"We'll be trying to close down the Oaklawn division, and be looking to have everything at Fair Grounds next year if they'll have us," said Jones, who also hopes to keep a small satellite string going at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland next winter.
Circular Quay may try Oaklawn Cap
Circular Quay returned to trainer Todd Pletcher's string in Southern California, where he has trained all winter, and Grasshopper is back in Neil Howard's Fair Grounds barn, awaiting his next assignment. While Circular Quay could start next in the Oaklawn Handicap, plans are more fluid for Grasshopper, but one has to think that their stirring stretch duel last Saturday in the New Orleans Handicap will be reprised somewhere down the line this season.
Circular Quay beat Grasshopper by a neck after another Pletcher-trained horse, Magna Graduate, had hounded Grasshopper on the lead. Grasshopper made the front end in the New Orleans Handicap only because the likely pacesetter, Silver Lord, came out of the gate sideways and dumped his jockey. Racing with blinkers on, Circular Quay stayed much closer to the pace than he had in any of his previous 11 starts, and he was able to wear down a game Grasshopper in the final yards.
The Oaklawn Handicap was the only race Pletcher mentioned Tuesday, but obviously Circular Quay's connections will have to see how the colt bounces back from his first win in a year. Circular Quay returned to California to train in order "to keep him in an environment where he's comfortable," Pletcher said. If Circular Quay indeed returns to the heart of the country for the Oaklawn Handicap, he will be based at Keeneland after the race, Pletcher said.
Howard said Grasshopper would be "nominated to all the obvious races," but that no specific spot had been picked. Winding up on the lead Saturday was not what Grasshopper's connections had in mind, and the narrow loss left Howard pondering what might have happened had Grasshopper made two starts going into the race, rather than just a victory in the Feb. 9 Mineshaft Handicap, Grasshopper's first start since September.
"My theory was if he had another race under his belt, he would've been able to match strides under pressure with Circular Quay the last 20 yards," said Howard. "But what the heck - you get beat a neck in a half-million-dollar race, I've had worse days."
Euroears tentative for Texas Mile
If Euroears keeps up his present pattern, by midsummer he may be the best racehorse ever to walk the earth.
Going by speed figures, Euroears started off a fast horse, and has gotten steadily faster. Saturday, winning for the sixth time in a row to begin his career, he ran his fastest race yet, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 110 while capturing the Duncan Kenner Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths.
But with Euroears, it's far more than speed figures. Euroears obviously has tremendous early speed, but he has learned to harness it and produce pure power in the stretch run.
"I thought we had a chance to be the speed of the speed Saturday, to get clear early and maybe get a length on them," trainer Bret Calhoun said.
Instead, it was Semaphore Man who took the early lead. Ramsey Zimmerman, riding Euroears, made a nifty move to take back slightly and switch to the outside on the backstretch. Euroears pounced coming off the turn, and made Semaphore Man - a very fast sprinter - look decidedly inferior.
"I think the most impressive part of the race was in the turn," Calhoun said. "He was never asked to move, and in three jumps he collared that horse without ever being asked."
James and Marilyn Helzer own Euroears, but that could change. "The phone's been ringing off the wall with people wanting to buy the horse," Calhoun said.
If Euroears's ownership remains the same, he is likely - as earlier planned - to start next in the Texas Mile at Lone Star.
* Thursday's feature, race 9, is a $50,000 optional claiming turf route. Master Mizzen finished second at the same class level in his most recent start, and stands a good chance of breaking through this time.