Larry Jones, riding long and looking like he outgrew his pony, lobbedKodiak Kowboy a circuit of the Saratoga main track Friday morning.
The scene played out as always; Jones shipping a stakes horses into the stakes barn, zipping up his chaps, hanging his white cowboy hat on a nail, putting on his helmet and taking a horse for an easy gallop at Saratoga.
On the final weekend of the meet, Jones goes after the Grade I Forego with favorite Kodiak Kowboy.
Fox Hill Farm and Vinery’s 4-year-old colt stretches out to his favorite distance, 7 furlongs, fresh off a third in the Grade II Vanderbilt going 6 furlongs earlier in the meet. The compact son of Posse won the Grade I Carter at the distance in April and sports a 2-for-4 mark at Saratoga, including a dramatic head victory in the Amsterdam last season. Gabriel Saez has the return call.
“He’s as honest as they come, very seldom does he run a bad race and if he does you can go back on his PPs and find a reason for it,” Jones said after cooling out the Kentucky-bred. “He’s a neat horse, I really think he loves it here, I can get him off the trailer here and he’s different, like, ‘Oh, I’m back.’ He knows where he is, he gallops better here, like he’s got more energy here, something lights his fire when he gets here. He’s been quite the joy.”
Kodiak Kowboy puts to rest the worry about stressing 2-year-olds early. He won the Bashford Manor and the Saratoga Special at 2. He swept the Amsterdam and the Sport Page at 3. He picked up the Carter and the Donald LeVine at 4. Jones keeps it simple.
“I just do what we’ve always done with him, he doesn’t have to have a lot of training,” Jones said. “I’ve been light with him, we took probably two or three extra days after the Vanderbilt, just because he did act like he was a little tired and when you ship that far and run, you kind of expect it. I didn’t panic. I decided fairly early that I’d only put one work into him. We worked him in the dark the other day, he came by me at the three-eighths pole, I was galloping another horse, I know he was rolling, hell, I couldn’t see him for long.”
Clockers caught him in 1:02 for 5 furlongs.
It could be a bittersweet moment for Jones. The 53-year-old trainer will retire at the end of the year after fazing out his 100-plus horse stable. He realizes this could be his last chance at a Grade I stakes at Saratoga.
“I’ll miss them but I think I’ll really miss them after awhile, don’t get me wrong but right now all I can think about doing is getting some rest, kick back and make my phone quit ringing, just get a little time,” Jones said. “To be on the competition line of fire every day, I would like to go out and train and not feel like I have to prove myself every time that gate opens. Maybe it’s just me but I feel like every horse I have to prove once again whether I can train or not.”
Jones built his stable the hard way; working side by side with his family and help and gradually growing too big for Ellis Park and the country life of Kentucky. Hard Spun, Old Fashioned, Wildcat Bettie B, Honest Man, Proud Spell and the ill-fated Eight Belles helped rocket Jones to the top of the sport. He quickly realized he needed to step back down.
“Last year we won 25 percent of our races and our stable made a lot of money and our owners made money but all I could concentrate on was those 75 of them that weren’t winning because the owners would be calling saying, ‘why didn’t my horse win?’ ” Jones said. “The higher percentage you win, the more they expect to win. I just said, ‘Hell, I don’t need this.’ Nobody’s more competitive than me and maybe I’m too competitive. I just don’t take losing well, I know it’s part of the game.”
Jones plans to go trail riding at the 5,000-acre Fair Hill Natural Resources Area. He’ll go to the yearling sales this fall, buy some horses for he and his wife Cindy to train. He’ll break them, get them going, if he wants to train them at 2 he will, if he wants to wait, he’ll wait.
“They have races for 3- and 4-year-olds,” Jones said. “I’m going take some time off, get to know my grandchildren.”
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Spendthrift Farm’s My Pal Charlie (Robby Albarado) could be a clean trip away from entering the Forego on a three-race win streak, but instead rides a seven-race losing streak.
The Al Stall trainee hit the gate at the start of the Churchill Downs Stakes but rallied from eighth to finish second, stumbled badly at the break of the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park only to range up turning for home and finish fourth and in his last start he was in tight during the 9-furlong Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows and finished third. Stall hopes for an uneventful trip this time.
“He’s just had no racing luck in his last three. I’m not sure if he’s becoming one of those horses that just finds trouble in every race but I’ve forgotten the last time he’s had a clean trip,” Stall said. “He’s had trouble at the gate in his last few but he’s never had an issue with it before. He stands in the gate like a champion in the morning, so I don’t know what it is.”
My Pal Charlie won the Grade II Super Derby in September 2008 to highlight a sophomore season that included three wins from nine starts and earnings of $581,653. The Super Derby was at 9 furlongs, but this season My Pal Charlie’s biggest runs have come around one turn. Stall backed off after the Cornhusker and My Pal Charlie shows a string of steady breezes over Keeneland’s Polytrack as he aims for his first Grade I win.
“This year it seems these long one-turn races have been his thing, so we’re excited. I love his post (10); it should allow us to settle in and then get first run on the closers,” Stall said. “He’s been training great since we gave him a little freshening and I couldn’t be happier with how he’s doing. Hopefully we can break away from there clean and then finally see what we can do.”
Pyro (John Velazquez) made his first start for Godolphin Stable in the James Marvin on Opening Day and closed late to just miss to Forego rival Gold Trippi. The 4-year-old was an early Kentucky Derby favorite last year, when trained by Steve Asmussen, but flattened out after his win in the Louisiana Derby in March. Godolphin purchased Pyro from breeder Ron Winchell and took control shortly after the Breeders’ Cup in October. Rick Mettee, U.S. assistant to Saeed bin Suroor, is optimistic Pyro, who drew the rail, can improve.
“He’s come on from his last race and he’s got a good 2 1/2-furlong run in him. Hopefully he’s fitter this time and he should really come into this in good shape,” Mettee said. “Obviously he’s going to need to run faster than he did in his last race to beat the Kodiak Kowboys of the world. It’s a much bigger field, and from the 1 hole you never know what kind of trip you’re going to pull.”
Repole Stable’s state-bred Driven By Success (Ramon Dominguez) put a big scare into everyone in the Met Mile. The Bruce Levine trainee made all the running and led inside the eighth pole before wilting to finish third, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths. Driven By Success squandered a 3-length lead in deep stretch to today’s rival Law Enforcement in the local John Morrissey against state-breds Aug. 6 and Levine knows the front will be crowded.
“There’s going to be plenty of speed and it seems like in these big fields it favors closers a bit because everyone wants to get position early,” Levine said. “He’s not a rank horse by any means, but he just seems to run better when he’s on the lead so I don’t want to take that away from him. He showed in the Met Mile that he fits with these kind of horses so we’re expecting another good run from him.”
Multidude (Alan Garcia) is another state-bred that will ensure a fast pace for owner/breeder Flying Zee Stable. The gelded son of Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus looked good winning an optional claimer over state-breds Aug. 10 for Carlos Martin but the waters get deeper. Multidude pressed a 43 4/5 half-mile before drawing off by 7 3/4 lengths. Martin is excited the 4-year-old is finally starting to put together consecutive races, after just six career starts.
“We’ve had to go through a lot with this horse, as you can see by all his layoff lines, but finally we’ve got him right and he’s in the best form of his career,” Martin said. “Even though it’s a big jump a lot of the horses in the race might be on the downside a little bit, while we’re still up the upswing, so it’s the right time to take a chance. He just ran brilliant over the track and he loves this place, so why not?”
Mark Hennig is thinking the same with Camelia Casby’s Law Enforcement (Kent Desormeaux), who ran down Driven By Success late in the Morrissey after lagging 14 lengths off the pace. The 4-year-old son of Posse has come into his own since Desormeaux jumped aboard four starts back and has been able to coax a pair of furious stretch runs out of Law Enforcement in his last two.
“It takes someone with a lot of patience to sit back there and trust that the horse is going to make a run. I was looking at his form, and he’s been 14 lengths out of it in his last two starts and won both of them,” Hennig said. “It’s a big step up but he’s good right now, so it’s time to take those horses on at seven-eighths on a track he seems to like. We always felt like he was a graded stakes horse when he was 2, but we just hit a few bumps in the road that kept us from getting there.”
Kevin Bogart, Neil Haymes and Mark Gorman’s Peace Chant (Julien Leparoux) is an interesting invader for California-based Doug O’Neill. The 6-year-old son of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner War Chant out of Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Safely Kept is winless in eight starts on synthetic surfaces and turf, but carries a 4-for-6 record on dirt. O’Neill claimed Peace Chant for $62,500 two starts back from Stonestreet Stable and Richard Mandella and the move immediately paid dividends when Peace Chant won the Phoenix Gold Cup on the main track at Turf Paradise in February, his last start.
Ready’s Echo (Calvin Borel), who adds blinkers and looks for his first career stakes score; Riley Tucker (Edgar Prado), a close fifth in the Met Mile; Gold Trippi (Cornelio Velasquez), the upset winner of the James Marvin earlier in the meet; True Quality (Javier Castellano), who defeated Fabulous Strike in the Grade II General George at 7 furlongs in February and Keep Laughing (Rajiv Maragh), a winner of two of three starts at the distance round out the field.