LOUISVILLE, KY. (AP) -- Trainer Larry Jones had little time to celebrate the last time he won the Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell in 2008. One day later, Eight Belles, his other top filly, broke down and was euthanized after finishing second the Kentucky Derby.
Jones' focus this week is on Believe You Can in Friday's $1 million Kentucky Oaks after he pulled Mark Valeski out of contention for the Kentucky Derby. He's hoping for success he can savor.
"The last time we (won here) in the Oaks, we didn't get to enjoy it but one day because what happened the next day took any of the Oaks enjoyment away," Jones said. "So that was the very first thing I thought when we took Mark out of consideration. I thought, well, if we win the Oaks this time, maybe we'll get to enjoy it for a while."
It was a tumultuous time for Jones, who retired shortly after Eight Belles' death and turned over his stable to his wife Cindy. He struggled with memory loss due to having high levels of aluminum in his system and suffered an enlarged liver and high blood pressure.
"I'll be perfectly honest with you, I can see interviews that I did after and I don't remember. I seriously don't remember and it's a good thing. I am remembering things that happened now, for a little while, I can remember things that happened last year but from 2008-09, I don't have a lot of memory or recall of it," Jones said. "It's really strange, it's just like those years are kind of blank for me."
Since he returned, Jones continued his superb development of fillies, most notably Havre de Grace, last year's Horse of the Year.
Now, Believe You Can, at 10-1, is following the same trail that Proud Spell did on her run here after both horses won the Fair Grounds Oaks. It's given Jones' confidence that maybe they're on the right path again.
"We're trying not to rock the boat," Jones said. "If it worked once, maybe lightning can strike twice in the same spot."
The speed of the field has often been described as lightning, too.
The 14 horses that will break in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks are headlined by Tony Dutrow-trained Grace Hall, the 5-2 favorite coming off a 6 1/2 length victory in the Gulfstream Park Oaks who will be ridden by Javier Castellano. The co-second choices are On Fire Baby and Broadway's Alibi, both at 4-1.
"I think we'll be a big part of it," Broadway's Alibi trainer Todd Pletcher said of the pace. "Our filly is very forward. She's a good gate horse and I think she'll be at the first turn very close, if not on the lead."
Broadway's Alibi is looking for her fifth straight victory after finishing second in her career debut at Delaware last year. For her to accomplish it, she'll have to knock off Grace Hall, who finished second behind champion My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs for her first career loss in November. My Miss Aurelia is not in this field because of a shin injury.
"We just finished second that day. There's nothing coming at me telling me, `This is why you finished second,"' said trainer Tony Dutrow, who is happy that she's worked well on the surface this week. "I'm feeling very good that she's enjoying Churchill very much."
There's 11 horses with 10-1 odds or higher, including 20-1 shot Karlovy Vary, who went wire-to-wire at the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Trainer Rusty Arnold said they were attending to final details Thursday.
"She will not be anywhere near the lead here, there is too much speed. She will lay back," Arnold said. "We need for two things to happen - she has to have a good trip and be able to handle the dirt."
On Fire Baby trainer Gary Hartlage believes he has the horse to beat when she breaks from the No. 1 slot after the 5:45 p.m. EDT post time.
"She had the whole package: confirmation, stride and the mentality," Hartlage said. "We know we have a good horse and it will take a good horse to beat her."