05/19/2010 11:00PM

Q&A: Cindy Jones


Trainer who has taken over the barn formerly overseen by her husband, Larry, who is now his wife's assistant and top exercise rider. She was interviewed last week at Pimlico, where her trainee No Such Word finished second in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes.

Birthdate: Dec. 9, 1951, in Adams, Tenn.

Family: husband, Larry; daughters Wendy, Amanda; sons Michael, Wesley

Got into racing because. . . "I had horses since I was 8 years old. I loved horses more than people. God gave me a wonderful gift, a passion for animals."

How did you end up with Larry? "I was working as a lab technician at the farm Larry worked for, Lazy Acres Thoroughbred Farm in Hopkinsville, Ky. It was owned by Dr. Frank Pitzer and his wife, Shirley. Somebody said, 'Why don't you go down and meet the barn crew?' I did, and I went to work for Larry in 1985. I was grooming for three days, and then he put me on my first Thoroughbred. The farm had racehorses, mares, and foals."

How long was it before you two dated? "About two years. It was like we were dating, because we were together constantly working. We got married in 1989."

Did you ever think you would be racing at this level? "No. You never think of it. That's your dream. Things changed when Island Sand won the Acorn. Larry did really well the first time he ran a horse at a track. Island Sand won the Acorn the first time he ran at Belmont. The first time he ran at Delaware, Island Sand won the Delaware Handicap. Hard Spun and Proud Spell then came along. We figured out pretty quickly that the East Coast was the place for us to be."

Was it hard in the beginning? "When Dr. Pitzer passed away, we had 40 horses and no money. Larry went to Hot Springs with five horses. I stayed at the farm with the rest. It was only me and him. He was a hotwalker, gallop boy, everything. He had to clean the stalls, feed them, tack them up, do the horse laundry, and come back and give them supper. We got all the horses on the farm sold. And then Amanda Panda made everything start going good for us."

Who was Amanda Panda? "She was a homebred, and the worst stall walker. It took an hour to clean her stall. The first time out of the box, she won $6,000 for us, and that was a lot of money. Then she won again, and we had $18,000. Larry then got offered $35,000 for her. That was a fortune. We had money ahead. We paid all our bills. The blacksmiths and the feed company had said to pay when you can. Amanda Panda literally saved our lives. She bought us a truck and a trailer. We had another horse named Banner's Discovery, Amanda's half-brother, who won four times. He bought us a house and a new van."

You obviously operate at a different level now. But Larry was so burned out a couple of years ago that he retired from training last year and you took over. How have things changed? "In the year before he announced his retirement, I had to keep putting up money to keep up his cell phone minutes. From the time he first said he would retire until he did, he ended up with 11,000 rollover minutes. Now he has 14,000. That's 1,000 minutes a month. Someone told me yesterday that he looks five years younger. I do all the entries and deal with the jockeys. He doesn't have to deal with that, or with the public and the press so much. We have 38 horses at Delaware Park, and 12 babies to come in, plus 10 we're getting from Brereton Jones. At the height of everything, we had 114 horses. It was crazy. We had horses at Fair Hill and at Delaware. The only time we saw each other was when we went to bed at night. It was miserable. Be careful what you wish for."

What prompted the change? "I begged him: 'You can't keep doing this.' We didn't see family, didn't see friends. I remember when Larry ran Proud Spell in the Alabama, and she beat Music Note that day. We had another horse in a stake at Monmouth, and the owner of that horse wondered why we weren't there. Larry came home and said, 'I'm done.' He gave a one-year notice to everyone. That was in the fall of 2008. The nice thing is, with Just Jenda, who we own, and the stud fees from Hard Spun and Old Fashioned, we don't have to worry about nothing. We're fine."

You used to ride. Do you still? "I started galloping again. I finally got unsore. I used to be Larry's main rider. But I hadn't been on a horse in 10 years. I got kicked by a

2-year-old on the farm in 1990, while Larry was at Churchill Downs, and broke my arm and ribs. I had seven surgeries on my left arm. For 12 years, it was non-union; it wouldn't hold together. Finally, I had a plate put in, with 22 screws. In weeks, I was able to use it. Dr. Pitzer saved my life. He came into the emergency room at the hospital, felt my stomach, and told them they had to get me to surgery right away. He could tell I was bleeding internally. I was one pint away from bleeding to death. If he hadn't come down to that cubicle, I'd have bled to death. They removed my spleen. I'm lucky to be alive."

Who are the best horses you've been around? "Hard Spun and Proud Spell. Proud Spell was the gutsiest horse. She had more heart than any horse I've been around. Hard Spun had so much talent."

Best horse seen? "Zenyatta. I got to scratch her back when she was stabled with us last year at Churchill Downs. There's a spot on her back where she just loves getting scratched. Every time she'd see me she'd stop. She wanted me to scratch her back. When she came to Oaklawn last month, I went to see her and scratched her back. When she heard my voice, she came right to me. She is so awesome."

Hobbies? "We've been remodeling homes. We bought a house three years ago on the edge of Maryland, in Elkton, and we've been picking out things, painting. Larry is enjoying yard work. He likes getting out on his lawnmower, or using the chain saw. He likes to ride that lawnmower when he's not riding horses. We also bought a log cabin in Henderson, Ky., and are remodeling that. We spent December there. Larry said the only bad thing about that house is that we had to leave."

Future ambitions? "I can see us doing this for about another 10 years. We like things the way they are. We've got some nice 2-year-olds coming in for Brereton Jones. I've already secured Calvin Borel for next year's Derby. Even if it's a maiden, I've got to get him!"