Larry Jones is back at his hometown track where he launched his training career in 1982. Now he’ll try to win Ellis Park’s marquee stakes for the first time with Jenda’s Agenda in Sunday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Groupie Doll while also saddling Believe in Royalty and Kowboy Karma in the inaugural running of the $75,000 Ellis Park Derby on the undercard.
The Groupie Doll attracted a field of 11 fillies and mares, headed by Indiana Grand’s Mari Hulman George winner Pinch Hit, who was fourth in the stakes last year. The Ellis Park Derby drew a capacity 12 entrants. Both races are a mile.
Jones stabled for many years at Ellis Park, short drives from his Henderson farm and from where he grew up in Hopkinsville. His first stakes victory was at Ellis Park, the 1986 Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonel Stakes with Capt. Bold, an $800 yearling purchase. Eighteen years later, Jones trained the first Ellis Park-based horse to win a Grade 1 stakes in New York when Island Sand took Belmont Park’s 2004 Acorn after finishing second in the Kentucky Oaks.
After relocating to Delaware Park following the 2005 tornado that ravished Ellis, Jones went on to win the Kentucky Oaks three times (Proud Spell, Believe You Can and Lovely Maria) and has had 10 individual horses win Grade 1 races, including 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun. Jones returned to Ellis Park for one summer in 2012, including having Believe You Can stabled at the Pea Patch, but this is his first full summer to have a barn here since.
“I was here 27 seasons in a row,” said Jones, who also has horses training at Churchill Downs. “… They say you can never go home, but it feels good to be here. I’m selling my house in Delaware, so we’re Kentucky again.”
Jenda’s Agenda is a daughter of Just Jenda, a multiple stakes-winner trained by Jones and co-owned by Jones and his wife, Cindy. The Joneses bred and own Jenda’s Agenda but early on sold half-interest to major client Rick Porter.
Like her mom, Jenda’s Agenda got off to a quick start as a racehorse, winning her first three races last year at age 3. Even after being sidelined 10 1/2 months with an injury, Jenda’s Agenda came right back with a good second off the layoff and then a smart win in an Oaklawn Park allowance race.
But in her subsequent two starts, Jenda’s Agenda was 11th and sixth, losing by 18 lengths in both Keeneland’s Grade 3 Doubledogdare and Prairie Meadows’ $100,000 Iowa Distaff. Jones suspects the filly had developed minor bone bruising that seems to be rectified and is hoping the Groupie Doll proves those debacles are not representative of who the 4-year-old filly really is.
“I hope not,” he said. “We moved her to Ellis Park, and she’s working really good over this course. Gabriel Saez will be back on her. That’s who kind of got her started and going. We’re sure keeping our fingers crossed that we’ve got her back. At first we thought maybe it was the Keeneland track that she wasn’t liking so she didn’t work well there. But then she started working a little better at Churchill.
“Although she won at Oaklawn and did good, she just never was quite the same after that. I’m going to kind of blame it on bone bruising. Nothing enough to make her lame or make her gallop bad, but when she hit that very top speed, then she could feel it. We moved her over here, because if it’s bone bruising, this track has so much cushion and stuff. I’m really happy with how she’s doing right now.”
Believe in Royalty is out of Jones’ 2012 Oaks winner Believe You Can and a son of Gainesway Farm’s super-sire Tapit. After setting the pace and weakening to third in a Churchill Downs’ allowance race, Believe in Royalty closed from last to finish fourth — but only two lengths from winning after coming six-wide — in the $250,000 Iowa Derby. Second in that race was Mr Freeze, who in his next start won the $750,000 West Virginia Derby.
“We tried a different style with him last time, coming from off the pace, and it seemed like, ‘OK, we’ve maybe found out what we need to do,’” Jones said. “He’s got enough early speed that he puts you in the race real quick if you want him to, or you let him. But we’re going to try maybe the same technique here, bringing him from off the pace and make one big run. He does have talent. These Tapits, some of them are a little tough. We weren’t trying to tell him how to do it. We were just trying to see what he wanted us to do. So maybe this is it.”
Jones said a mile might be a little far for Kowboy Karma, a son of 2009 sprint champion Kodiak Kowboy trained by Jones. Kowboy Karma, winner of a small stakes last year at Delaware and fourth in Belmont’s Grade 1 Champagne, last ran when second in a Keeneland allowance race on April 12.
“He’s training good enough, doing his gallop-outs really well,” Jones said. “He’s not working as fast maybe as he was. But we’re trying to get him to where he can go a little longer. We’re hoping maybe a little different training technique on him will pay off.”
Jones, a familiar site on the track with his tall frame galloping horse after horse in the mornings, said several weeks ago that he was going to hang up his chaps. At 61, he thought it was age that had his arms and legs feeling sore and achy. Instead, his Evansville physician, horse owner Steed Jackson, told him this week that it was the onset of the shingles virus. It was caught early, is being treated and Jones is feeling better.
“I said, ‘Darn, who knows? Maybe I’ll want to go back to galloping after all of this. I just thought I was old and broke down. Maybe I still have another 70 years left in me,’” Jones joked. “I told (the doctor) it’s not like you’ll never see me on a horse, because I rode the pony today. But I said, ‘Me galloping 10 or 12 a day is out. I’m not going to do that anymore.’ And I’m not, no matter how good I feel. But you might see me on two or three horses.
“But it’s time. I knew my reflexes were starting to change. This way I quit on my terms. I tried to roughly estimate and I know I have galloped over a half-million miles. And I ain’t going nowhere. I wind up right back where I started every time!”
Groupie Doll Stakes (G3)
Post time: Sunday at 4:40 p.m. Central (ninth race)
Purse: $100,000. Distance: mile. Division: Fillies & mares 3 years old & up
pp horse (weight) jockey/
1. Sense of Bravery (116) De La Cruz/Cox
2. Jenda’s Agenda (120) G. Saez/Jones
3. Champagne Problems (120) Borel/Wilkes
4. Misleading Lady (120) Rocco/Tomlinson
5. Honey Bunny (120) Lanerie/Ortiz
6. Pacific Pink (120)
7. Mines and Magic (120) Camacho/V. Oliver
8. Dutch Parrot (120) Canchari/
9. Torrent (120) Gilligan/
10. Pinch Hit (120) Bridgmohan/
11. Dorodansa (120) Hill/Gorder
Ellis Park Derby
Post time: Sunday at 4:10 p.m. Central (eighth race)
Purse: $75,000. Distance. mile. Division: 3-year-olds
pp horse (weight) jockey/
1. Travelling Midas (120) Gilligan/
2. Front Door (120)
3. Ebben (120)
4. Jacktastic (120) Landeros/
5. Hoonani Road (122) Hill/
6. Battle At Sea (122) Albarado/
7. Kowboy Karma (120) Hernandez/
8. Limation (120) McMahon/
9. Believe In Royalty (120) G. Saez/Jones
10. Art Collection (120) Rocco/Dickey
11. Cutler (120) Zajac/
12. Turner Time (120) Lanerie/Cox