LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nicked-up Friesan Fire will return to Delaware Park today after the Kentucky Derby favorite ran a disappointing 18th Saturday at Churchill Downs. The horse's trainer, Larry Jones, feeling cut up himself, will not be at his barn for the next week.
Both may be at the Preakness Stakes on May 16 to take on Mine That Bird, the 50-1 Derby winner. Jones' wife and assistant, Cindy, used the word "hopefully" yesterday morning when talking about Friesan Fire's chances of being ready to run in the Preakness.
She talked yesterday because her husband began serving a one-week suspension after one of his horses tested positive for illegal levels of clenbuterol in June. He and the owner, Jim Squires, had appealed the suspension, claiming sabotage because of their antidrug stances after Eight Belles died last year. The Delaware Racing Commission, while sympathetic, ruled the trainer is responsible for his horse.
The suspension won't affect Friesan Fire's training, Cindy Jones said. She had him at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans all winter while Larry Jones was often at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., with another Derby prospect, Old Fashioned.
"He'll be fine," she said. "This horse is an easy horse to gallop. Larry plans his schedule every day, and we do exactly what he wants us to do."
In the Derby, Friesan Fire was knocked right out of the gate by Papa Clem to the outside and got tangled up. He had cuts on all four legs, Cindy Jones said. The colt's handlers did not realize the extent of his cuts until they gave him a bath, she said.
"He ended up with nine cuts on all four legs," she said. "I don't know how he could have done all that [to himself]. . . . It was because he got hit so hard and bumped into horses on the other side. It was like a chain reaction."
It all went badly for the colt from there, Cindy Jones said. Friesan Fire got up to sixth at the clubhouse turn and still was eighth going into the far turn, but jockey Gabriel Saez said that "he didn't want to go, so I let him relax and finish the race."
"He recovered from getting knocked around, but then he never found a place to go," Cindy Jones said.
The mood at Barn 45 yesterday morning didn't compare to the overwhelming despair felt last year, after Eight Belles was put down, having fractured both front legs galloping out after the filly's second-place finish.
After finishing second with Hard Spun in 2007 and again last year, "we really felt like we had the best horse we've ever brought to the Derby," Cindy Jones said. "But you need racing luck."
Larry Jones said he plans to retire in November, or at least take a break from training. He could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he said last week that he had fired a night watchman after a sponge was put into the nose of one of his horses and his pony was let out of the barn at night "with a blistering agent in his mouth."
Larry Jones said an investigation did not offer any proof, but "I'm not sure [the watchman] wasn't bought off to disappear and not be doing his job."
"We think we made some horsemen mad," he said of his talk that he did not use steroids, which were commonly used in horse racing before being banned in the last year in virtually all North American racing jurisdictions. "They felt like I forgot where I came from, what it takes to run a claiming operation. It is different for me now than what it was. But I didn't forget."
Jones said in June that he had given a horse named Stones River clenbuterol, a commonly used bronchodilator administered in liquid form that helps promote muscle growth. But he insisted he had given it a day earlier than the 72-hour deadline before race day required by the State of Delaware.
Larry Jones told The Inquirer after the horse tested positive that there was an "outside shot" that Stones River had legitimately tested positive. The appeal process lasted until November. By then, Delaware Park was closed for the season, so his suspension would not be served until it opened again last month. He was allowed to serve it the week after the Derby, not the week before, which was the opening week at Delaware Park.
"In 30 years of training, we've never had a medication violation whatsoever," he said last year. "Now, since Eight Belles we have tried to show that we've been playing beyond the rules, and stated the fact that we want to level the playing field. We use as little medication as possible."
Yesterday, Cindy Jones said she and her husband no longer gave their horses at Delaware Park clenbuterol because of their uncertainty over what happened.
"If he ever comes up with a positive test again, we know it was sabotage," she said.