03/11/2009 12:00AM

Proud Spell itching to come back

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Proud Spell just wasn't ready to retire. The champion 3-year-old filly of 2008, she indicated to her connections that she wanted to remain a working girl for the time being, so to work she will go Thursday in the ninth race at Oaklawn Park.

Proud Spell will make her first start of the year in a $75,000 optional claiming race open to fillies and mares with third-level allowance conditions or who have not won since Dec. 12, 2008. It will be her first appearance since she finished second in the Grade 2 Cotillion at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 20.

"She went home immediately after that race with the expectations of being retired permanently," said Larry Jones, who trains Proud Spell, the winner of last year's Kentucky Oaks, for her breeder, Brereton Jones. "That's what we expected. But after she got fresh, caught her breath, she decided, 'I don't want to retire.' "

Proud Spell's connections found she was happiest in training, and after starting back at the farm, she returned to Jones at Fair Grounds in January. Her last two works have been five-furlong bullets, a 59.80-second move from the gate at Fair Grounds on Feb. 26, and a 1:00 breeze at Oaklawn on March 5.

"She does seem incredibly happy and she seems to be training better than she ever did before," Jones said. "She always trained okay, but she is training with some enthusiasm now. She used to just go out and do her work. I mean, she knew what the 9-to-5 job consisted of, and she'd do it. Now, she wants the extra. She wants to get on with it."

Jones said Thursday's race, which will be run at 1 1/16 miles, will serve as a steppingstone to the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn on April 4.

"It will give us a shot to, hopefully, not have one of those gut-wrenching first-time-out performances," he said.

The Apple Blossom is one of two major goals lined up for Proud Spell.

"The only other one we have definitely inked in as our objective is the Delaware Handicap," Jones said. "She's never been beaten at Delaware, and it's a million dollars. So, we definitely have that on the agenda. Other than that, we'll just work accordingly and see how many races she thinks she wants.

"We're hoping she can maybe get another championship, if it's not for that cotton-picking Zenyatta."

Gabriel Saez has the mount on Proud Spell, who could get a nice stalking trip Thursday behind Superior Storm and Holistic.