Trainer Larry Jones showed you can return home — in spades — as the Western Kentucky product finished 1-2 in Sunday’s inaugural $75,000 Ellis Park Derby with Believe in Royalty edging Kowboy Karma by a half-length in a battle of stretch-runners.
Jones launched his training career at Ellis Park and stabled here for 27 years before moving his operation to the East Coast in the wake of the 2005 tornado that devastated the track, as well as the fact that he had started to develop a sequence of stakes horses. Jones did spend 2012 back at Ellis but this is his first summer here since then. One result is that the Hopkinsville native, who long has had a farm in Henderson, won his first stakes race at his hometown track since 2002 when Ruby’s Reception won the Anna M. Fischer Debutante.
Of course, Jones didn't run a horse at Ellis from 2013 until this year, his last stakes appearance here being a second in the 2012 Groupie Doll with Joyful Victory, who the next year won a Grade 1 stakes at Santa Anita.
“It’s very good for me,” said Jones of returning to his old stomping grounds. “I was just talking with the clerk of scales. The first stakes that I won here was a 3-year-old boy stakes going a mile, and the clerk of scales, Darrell Foster, rode him for me. That was back in 1986. So it’s good to be back here, do this, for the inaugural running of the Ellis Park Derby, I’m proud to do it.”
Believe in Royalty, a son of the Jones-trained Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can, rallied from last in the capacity field of twelve 3-year-olds, fanning wide under Gabriel Saez but having an unimpeded trip. Kowboy Karma, making his first start since April, was bottled up in traffic and forced to check at the quarter pole before Brian Hernandez could get him to the outside, closing from 11th to edge past pacesetting Travelling Midas and jockey Jack Gilligan in the final strides.
“I got a good trip,” Saez said. “Right off the bat I got in the position that I wanted to be. Then I settled back there to make a move when there’s room for it. When I turned for home, I saw I was about four lengths off of them and said, ‘I think the horse has a chance now. So let’s get up there.’ I asked him for his run, and he gave it to me and got the job done. That was really impressive. I liked the job Larry has done with him the last couple of weeks. He did a really good job and we got to win the stakes, so I’m really happy with that.”
Believe in Royalty covered the mile in 1:37.96 and paid $17.40 to win as the fourth choice. He’s now 3-0-2 in nine starts, earning $110,635 for owners Robert C. Baker, William Mack and breeder Brereton C. Jones. Brereton Jones is no relation to his trainer but has teamed with Larry Jones to win the Kentucky Oaks three times, including with Believe You Can in 2012, a summer in which that filly was part of his contingent stabled at Ellis Park.
Believe in Royalty, by super-sire Tapit, showed speed in his a lot of his earlier races but wasn’t finishing. Larry Jones switched up his training and had him come from well off the pace in the Iowa Derby, resulting in an encouraging fourth-place finish in which he lot by a total of a length.
“We knew both of these horses were going to be closers so we were just hoping they were carrying a fast pace up front,” Larry Jones said. “When I saw 23 for the first quarter, I thought, ‘Well, that’s realistic. We can close into it.’ But they both came with a run. Kowboy got in a little trouble in there, had to steady for just a second. Believe in Royalty was able to save a little ground, split horses and come running. Both horses ran very well.”
Of Believe in Royalty’s new style, he said, “I hope this is the thing to do. We took him back to dead last again today and made one run and he came running. Hopefully that’s our game.”
Kowboy Karma, winner of a stakes in his second start and a veteran of graded-stakes company, went off the favorite.
“We couldn’t quite get there,” Hernandez said. “I think we might have been the best horse today, though, because going around the turn we did have a little trouble. We ran up on heels and kind of ran out of room. Finally when it all cleared up, our horse was just gradually getting there. But not having run since Keeneland, he made a big effort.”
Travelling Midas, with Jack Gilligan up, was coming out of a maiden victory at Churchill Downs and was caught late in the Ellis Park Derby.
“It was a big race,” said Jack Bohannan, assistant trainer to Rusty Arnold. “He ran a great race. I thought we were home free there for a while. He ran well. Pretty happy with that. Big step up. We asked a lot of him, and he proved he belonged."
Completing the order of finish: Hoonani, Battle at Sea, Ebben, Jacktastic, Front Door, Limation, Art Collection, Turner Time, Cutler.