03/03/2009 12:00AM

Proud Spell nearing return


Larry Jones was making that haul again Tuesday. With strings of horses he trains at both Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park, Jones has worn his own grooves in the roads from New Orleans to Hot Springs, Ark., the last couple years. Reached in transit from Fair Grounds to Oaklawn, Jones was asked which horses were housed in the trailer just behind him.

"Oh, don't know if there are any you've heard of," Jones said.

Highway humor.

Among the horses Jones was shipping northeast on Tuesday was champion 3-year-old filly Proud Spell, who blasted through a five-furlong gate work in 59.80 seconds last Thursday at Fair Grounds, but still isn't far enough along to make the Azeri Stakes this weekend at Oaklawn, Jones said.

"That race comes up just a little bit soon," Jones said. "I'd need to get one more work in there. We'll get up [to Oaklawn] and probably work her Thursday and see what we look like, but I don't expect her to run in the Azeri."

Even so, Jones said he and owner Brereton Jones are still pointing Proud Spell to the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn.

"I may have to train her up to that," Jones said. "I can make my own race for her in the morning if I have to."

Proud Spell nearly was retired over the winter, and getting several months off has helped the filly, Jones said.

"I think she's the best she's ever been," Jones said. "She's happy, she seems to be more focused. Toward the end of last year, she'd kind of gotten tired. She's doing it now because she wants to, not because she has to."

On the van with Proud Spell (among others) was Just Jenda, who won the Tiffany Lass in January at Fair Grounds but finished a well-beaten third last out in the Silverbulletday. Just Jenda obviously is passing the Fair Grounds Oaks and will be pointed to the Honeybee at Oaklawn, Jones said.

But there is plenty of action left at Fair Grounds, where likely Louisiana Derby favorite Friesan Fire worked five furlongs Monday morning. Friesan Fire will be attempting to pull off a rare Fair Grounds triple in the Louisiana Derby, having already won the Lecomte and Risen Star stakes in his two starts at 3. Friesan Fire, working for the first time since the Feb. 7 Lecomte, was timed in 1:01.40 under jockey Gabriel Saez for his five-furlong drill, a time that surprised his trainer.

"That was a good work for him," Jones said. "I was on the track watching him go, where I could gallop out with him and I could hear him breathe, and I thought he'd gone in 1:03 or 1:04. When we got back to the barn and got the time on him, he went the same as he had before. He drank maybe only a gallon of water afterward, and he looked much slower than what he actually was. I just didn't want to get a super-slow one in him. I didn't want him to not get anything at all out of the work."

Also working Monday was Kodiak Kowboy, who is on course to make his 2009 debut in the Duncan Kenner Stakes, part of the Louisiana Derby card March 14. Kodiak Kowboy went five furlongs in 1:01.60 while working from the gate.

"He's never a really good work horse," Jones said. "For him to work like that by himself, that was a really good work. When he came back in, he was pretty fresh, wanting to play a lot more. He's getting back into the rhythm right now."

Finally, Jones also drilled Mineshaft Handicap winner Honest Man five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Monday. Honest Man might well wind up the favorite in the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap next weekend.

Secret Gypsy to Distaff Handicap

Secret Gypsy appears to have recovered from a mild pastern injury that forced her to be scratched from the Feb. 7 Pan Zareta Stakes on the morning of the race, trainer Ronny Werner said. Secret Gypsy has come back to post two recent workouts since missing the Pan Zareta, most recently going a half-mile in 49.80 seconds Monday.

Secret Gypsy had dominated sprint races at Churchill Downs and Fair Grounds in her two most recent races and appears to be among the fastest sprinting fillies in the country.

"It was just bad timing with what happened," Werner said. "It only took four days to get it good, and we haven't had any problem out of it since."

Werner said Secret Gypsy would have two more works before shipping to New York, where she's scheduled to start in the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap at six furlongs on March 21 at Aqueduct.