Trainer Larry Jones has a way with the ladies. His Kentucky Oaks victories with Proud Spell (2008), Believe You Can (2012) and Lovely Maria (2015) prove that.
Yet he is still working to be at his persuasive best with 4-year-old Street Band. Despite being a Grade 1 winner that has earned more than $1 million, the chestnut daughter of Istan remains a bit of a project if she is to be among the prime contenders in what looms as an extraordinarily deep Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
“She’s a filly that wants to be a little hard on herself in training. We’re just trying to get her to relax and take life a little easier,” said Jones. “It looks like she’s doing that. Hopefully, she runs well off of that.”
He eagerly awaits the answer as Street Band returns from a layoff in the Aug. 9 Groupie Doll Stakes, to be run at one mile at Ellis Park. It will be her first action since she suffered what her trainer described as a minor injury while she ran fourth in the April 18 Apple Blossom Stakes (G1) at Oaklawn Park.
She had opened the season by finishing third in the Jan. 26 Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston before a fourth-place effort in the March 14 Azeri (G2) at Oaklawn.
Jones is attempting to convey the “Just chill” message to Street Band through her breezes. “We’re trying to get her out of the bit a little bit and finishing her works better than she starts,” he said.
Street Band has had a tendency to be too headstrong and too keen for regular rider Sophie Doyle. “Sophie wants her to be a little more relaxed and it looks like the races she has been more relaxed in have been her better races,” Jones said. “We are trying to get her to do what Sophie wants her to do.”
Jones said he “absolutely” will stick with Doyle. “They are a really good match,” he said. “She does a good job, and she’s going to remain on her.”
Interestingly, when Street Band earned her lone Grade 1 triumph, in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes last September at Parx Racing, she took her time getting into the race. She was last in a field of 10 in the early going before rallying and overpowering fellow 3-year-olds by 2 1/4 lengths.
Jones would not be shocked if the Groupie Doll unfolded the same way. “We may be last early in the race. We don’t know,” he said. “But it worked out well for her that day (in the Cotillion).”
Street Band is owned by Jones and his wife, Cindy, as well as Ray Francis, Medallion Racing and MyRaceHorse Stable. In 16 career starts, she has registered five victories and four third-place finishes for earnings of $1,152,595.
Jones is intent on taking another crack at the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, where Street Band came home a lackluster eighth last year. Since the Breeders’ Cup will be at Keeneland Race Course, he will look to use the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland as a steppingstone to the Distaff. He will likely attempt to fit in a start between the Groupie Doll and the Spinster; it is uncertain what that would be.
As of Sunday, Street Band had breezed six times in preparation for her return to competition. In the most recent of those breezes, on July 23 at Ellis Park, she traveled five furlongs in 1:01.60, ranking second of nine horses to cover the distance that morning.
Jones knows Street Band must step up merely to be competitive in what will be a highly anticipated Distaff. “It’s a deep bunch of fillies and mares this year,” he said. “We’re just trying to hold our own.”
Jones, 63, continues to progress after he was unseated when a 2-year-old he was galloping stumbled on July 17 at Ellis Park. He broke nine ribs, a vertebra and his collarbone. It was the second severe accident of his career after he was seriously injured in a spill at Delaware Park in 2014.
He reiterated earlier statements that his days of exercising horses are over. “I’m through galloping,” he said. “I’ve had enough.”