by Doug McCoy
“How’s Larry Jones doing?”
It’s the first question from nine out of 10 racing fans in recent weeks as the popular horseman recuperated from serious injuries incurred in a training accident some seven weeks back. Jones suffered a bruised lung, two broken ribs and had some bleeding of the brain after he was thrown heavily during training hours in April.
“I’m coming along,” said the trainer from his home Friday. “I’m not quite ready to get back on anything and take them to the track but I’m out on the pony in the morning.
“Some things are taking longer to improve than others but overall I’m doing OK. You know, when you get a little older it takes your body a little longer to bounce back and I’m no exception in that regard,” he added. “I would like to thank all the people who have sent cards and messages of encouragement to Cindy and myself during all this. It’s meant a lot to us.”
Injured or not, Jones is a horsemen first, and being back with his horses seems to have been the best therapy for the man who trained Horse of the Year Havre De Grace, Proud Spell, Hard Spun and other notables. “Being able to get back to the barn was a big plus for me,” Jones said. “That’s where I’m most comfortable, with my horses.”
Two of his top runners will be in action this weekend. Blue Violet, winner of two of her last three starts and second in the Winter Melody last time out, will start in the Grade 3 $150,000 Obeah Handicap over a mile and an eighth on Saturday at Delaware Park. On Sunday his top 3-year-old colt, Albano, is slated to run in the Grade 3 $150,000 Pegasus over 1 1/16 miles at Monmouth Park.
Blue Violet is out of Gasia, who Jones also trained. But he said Blue Violet has taken a little more time to mature and gain full focus in her races.
“Gasia was more involved and more competitive early in her career, but in the past few races it seems like Blue Violet is starting to understand what it’s all about,” Jones explained. “She’s shown steady improvement over the past several months and were hopeful she’ll show us enough in Sunday to earn a spot in the [Grade 1] Delaware Handicap.”
Jones won the Delaware Handicap in 2005 with Island Sand after hauling the mare almost 1,000 miles in a two-horse van. He was so pleased with the track and the peaceful surroundings of the Delaware backstretch that he moved here soon after during the spring and summer months. It was here where horses like Havre De Grace and Hard Spun were headquartered, and Jones admits Island Sand’s win nine years ago was a major game changer for him and his career.
Albano, who was for a time on the Triple Crown trail, has been off 10 weeks since a rough trip in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. While Jones said Albano didn’t come out of that race — in which he was elevated to fourth through disqualification — with any physical problems, he said it was time for the colt to have a little break. So Albano, like a number of horses from the Jones barn, got some R & R.
Since coming back, Albano, a half-brother to graded stakes winner Mark Valeski who won some $658,000 during his career, has posted five five-furlong works, including a bullet 59 3/5 move on May 19. Jones said some of the works may have been ever better than the numbers would indicate.
“We tried to beat the rain the other morning but got caught right in the middle of a torrential downpour,” the conditioner said, “I was on the pony and I couldn’t see 20 feet, but the rider said he (Albano) just skipped along like nothing was going on. Albano is a lot easier to manage and handle during a race than his brother was. Mark Valeski could be a little headstrong at times, but this horse allows you to place him where you want, and I think that’s going to make him very tough as time goes on. I think he’s coming up to the race in good form. Now we’ll see how he handles the track up there (Monmouth). If he runs well Sunday we’ll decide what to do next, and of course the [Grade 1] Haskell would be one of the races we would be looking at.”
Albano is owned by Brereton Jones, former governor of Kentucky and a very successful owner and breeder. Larry Jones said he looks forward to the horses sent to him by Brereton Jones because they’ve been raised in a group with other horses and not babied and segregated as some other breeders do.
“There’s such an emphasis on having youngsters look good for the sales ring that a lot of horses are kept apart from groups of other yearlings,” the trainer explained. “Mr. Jones believes in letting his babies run together in a social setting. If they get nicked up a little bit once in a while, that’s OK because he believes being in the herd and learning to take care of themselves when they’re young helps to make them easier to handle and train once they go to the track and also makes them more seasoned and competitive in their races. He’s a top horseman, and on top of that he and his family are just good folks.”
Of course, many would use the exact same words to describe Larry and Cindy Jones.