09/19/2008 11:00PM

What's left for Proud Spell to prove?


Trainer Larry Jones is generally a friendly and easy-going guy. He turns a bit testy, however, when asked whether he thinks the race for champion 3-year-old filly is still up for grabs between his Proud Spell and her arch-rival, Music Note.

Proud Spell, a winner of two Grade 1 and two Grade 2 stakes this season, will be a heavy favorite while conceding significant weight to her six rivals in Saturday's Grade 2, $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Philadelphia Park.

On paper, Proud Spell's assignment in the 1o1/16-mile Cotillion doesn't appear that difficult. Seattle Smooth, who earned a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure for her easy win in the $100,000 Go for Wand at Delaware Park three weeks ago, and stretch-out sprinter By the Light, who got a 96 when she finished a remote second to champion juvenile filly Indian Blessing in the six-furlong, Grade 1 Prioress in July, are her only rivals who have come close to the Cotillion par of 99.

Proud Spell and Music Note, a three-time Grade 1 winner, have split two decisions. Music Note prevailed by 3 1/2 lengths in the Mother Goose at Belmont. In the rematch last month at Saratoga, Proud Spell held off Music Note by a head in the Alabama.

In Jones's view, Proud Spell's collective body of work since February, highlighted by wins in the Kentucky Oaks, the Alabama, the Delaware Oaks, and the Fair Grounds Oaks trumps Music Note's three wins since June 28 in the Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks, and the Gazelle.

"I think my filly has it sewn up," Jones said of the 3-year-old filly championship. "Proud Spell has been there all year, not just a couple of months. That's why they call the award the horse of the year.

"She's earned more money than any other 3-year-old filly and she's the third leading money earner overall," he added.

Jones said he puts more weight on the result of the Alabama than the Mother Goose, a race in which Proud Spell stumbled coming out of the gate and was disqualified from second to third for running erratically in the stretch.

"In the Alabama, we raced at equal weights and Proud Spell was the better horse," Jones said.

Now the onus, said Jones, is upon Music Note to prove she's superior by beating older foes such as the unbeaten Zenyatta, Ginger Punch, and Hystericalady in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic on Oct. 24 at Santa Anita.

"If Music Note wants to be the champion 3-year-old filly, she's got to earn it by winning the Breeders' Cup," Jones said.

Jones hasn't decided whether to run in the Breeders' Cup, but admitted he's reluctant to run his filly over the new synthetic surface at Santa Anita. He has trained Proud Spell over the synthetic Tapeta at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, but isn't overly enthused about how she handled it.

"She hasn't adapted to the synthetic as well as some of my other horses have," Jones said. "She gets over it, she runs very well on it, but when it comes to racing, her workout times are a little slower than what the effort she's putting into suggests she should be working."

As for the Cotillion, Jones is concerned that Proud Spell spots five pounds to Seattle Smooth and 10 pounds to the rest of the field.

"She's only a little bitty filly," Jones said. "Giving away 10 pounds to almost every horse in the field is a lot for her."

Seattle Smooth's last race was huge, but she may be susceptible to a bounce coming back so quickly. Her trainer, Tony Dutrow, does show a 5-for-13 record with fillies and mares returning from a career top in less than 30 days, according to DRF's Formulator.

The Rick Dutrow-trained By the Light, 6 for 7 lifetime, is also dangerous. She will be making her first try beyond a mile in the Cotillion, but did win the $300,000, one-mile Delta Princess by 5 1/4 lengths the only previous time she was asked to run beyond six furlongs.