Thoroughbred trainer Larry Jones is no stranger to adversity. He has overcome numerous setbacks in his career including the tragic breakdown of his filly Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby to a devastating personal injury while galloping one of his own horses that caused bleeding on the brain and almost cost him his life. Through it all Jones has persevered and managed to carve out a spot as one of America’s top thoroughbred trainers.
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Jones was born in 1956 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a state known for horseracing. Jones began his professional career, however, as a commercial farmer before starting to train thoroughbreds in 1982. His first stables competed at Ellis Park in Kentucky and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Most of the horses conditioned by Jones during that time were modest claimers and a few allowance-level runners. It wasn’t until 2007 that Jones burst on to the national scene with a colt named Hard Spun. Hard Spun was a runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic amid a tough crop of three-year old runners that included Street Sense and Curlin. Even though Jones had success with Hard Spun and other colts he has become known for his ability to develop talented fillies.
This was never more apparent than it was in 2008 when Jones attempted to complete a sweep of the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby. He had two exceptional fillies in his barn that year. Proud Spell would go on to become that year’s award-winning three-year-old filly of the year, becoming the first of Jones’ runners to win an Eclipse Award. Eight Belles was perhaps even more talented, so much so that Jones decided to enter her against males in the 2008 Kentucky Derby rather than the Kentucky Oaks for fillies. As it was, this wasn’t a bad idea; Proud Spell was already slated to compete in the Oaks and looked to be a favorite to win. Rather than risk two of his runners in stretch duel in the Oaks Jones opted to roll the dice with Eight Belles in the Derby.
Proud Spell was a dominating force on Friday, winning the Oaks decisively on a sloppy track. Larry Jones would enter Saturday with a chance to become the first trainer to win the Oaks and Derby in the same year with fillies. The happiness of the moment turned sour, however, when Eight Belles broke both front legs as she was galloping out of the race after a respectable second-place finish.
Jones was devastated. To make matters worse the media attention surrounding Eight Belles’ injury prompted accusations that Jones had used illegal drugs to mask physical problems in the filly, a claim that was later proven false when tests of her blood showed no medications. PETA also jumped on the bandwagon of those criticizing Jones and many people sent him hate mail. The scenario was so distressing that Jones soon announced his intention to retire from racing.
Jones reappeared to compete in the 2009 Kentucky Derby with a pair of highly-regarded colts, Friesian Fire and Old Fashioned. While the horses did not claim Derby honors they did have good campaigns. With the Derby behind him Jones announced that he would turn the training duties over to his wife and gallop horses for her instead. This led to a tragic incident in the spring of 2014.
Jones was galloping a two-year-old horse at Delaware Park when the horse became spooked and violently threw Jones from the saddle. Jones landed face-first on the track and was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors induced a coma after determining that Jones had bleeding on his brain. After a surgery the bleeding stopped and Jones eventually recovered. After his recovery Jones decided to return to training.
Roughly one year later in May of 2015 Jones was once again in the paddock at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks to saddle not one but two fillies in the event, Lovely Maria and I’m a Chatterbox. Lovely Maria took the win while her stablemate finished third. Jones had reemerged as a force to be reckoned with in horseracing.
Larry and his wife Cindy have spent the last few years stabling their horses at Delaware Park in the spring and summer while moving to Oaklawn Park in the winter.
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