LOUISVILLE, Ky. ? The memories will always be with Larry Jones. Two years ago, he had a horse named Hard Spun who ran hard, just not hard enough to win the Kentucky Derby. A year ago, his filly Eight Belles ran so hard that she pulled up at the end of the race, broke down, and had to be euthanized.
Now the 52-year-old Jones, who is taking one last lap around the thoroughbred circuit this season before retirement, is looking for the ultimate happy ending at today?s 135th running of the Kentucky Derby.
If you listened to Jones this week, and watched him go about his business, you could almost feel the positive vibes when he talked about Friesan Fire, who Jones feels has what it takes to win the Derby. The son of A.P.
Indy has done nothing wrong during his prep schedule, going 3 for 3 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, including impressively in the slop in the Louisiana Derby March 14.
With rain forecast for today at Churchill Downs, a wet track could prove to be the edge Friesan Fire needs in a 20-horse field with no clear-cut choice. I Want Revenge was the morning-line favorite at 3-1, and Dunkirk and Pioneerof the Nile were at 4-1. Friesan Fire (6-1) was the only other horse Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia assigned single-digit odds.
?I think it?s a good crop of 3-year-olds, said Battaglia. ?But after the top tier, the drop-off is steep.?
Weather could be a factor for the horses used to running on artificial surfaces, led by Pioneerof the Nile, who could be experiencing something new, mud in their faces on a sloppy track.
There are other factors. Dunkirk, for example, never raced as a 2-year-old, which is viewed as a major hurdle for the Todd Pletcher-trained horse, since no horse in more than a century has won with that background.
Friesan Fire, meanwhile, has his doubters, who say his layoff between races, seven weeks, is too long.
And what about Desert Party and United Arab Emirates Derby winner Regal Ransom, owned by Sheik Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai? Can they make the jump from a winter and early spring of preparation in Dubai to the cornerstone of thoroughbred racing in Kentucky? So many factors to consider, which is why there is not likely to be a consensus favorite for the 3:24 p.m. post time. Throw in the possibility of weather being a factor and the picture becomes murkier.
I Want Revenge was given the role of favorite after Quality Road withdrew because of a hoof problem, which will also keep him out of the Preakness in two weeks. I Want Revenge drew some attention with a solid win in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in March, and even more when he stumbled at the start of the Wood Memorial last month, then put together a monster stretch run to win.
Of course, backers of Pioneerof the Nile may say, ?Not so fast, my friend,? pointing out that I Want Revenge is 0-2 against Pioneerof the Nile, although both of those races were in California on the artificial surfaces. Since coming to New York, I Want Revenge has proven his mettle on dirt.