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Proud Spell pulls away late in Kentucky Oaks
Associated Press
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Published: 5/3/2008 12:15 AM

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Larry Jones' fillies are making the self-proclaimed "dumb cowboy" look like a genius.

Proud Spell drew away in the stretch to win the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on Friday, giving the homespun trainer a shot at pulling off an unprecedented Oaks-Kentucky Derby double.

The 3-year-old filly stalked pacesetter Bsharpsonata around the far turn, then simply ran away from the rest of the 10-horse field to win by 5 lengths and set the stage for stablemate Eight Belles, who will take on the boys today in the Derby.

No trainer has won the Oaks and the Derby in the same year since 1952, and none have done it with two fillies. But Jones seems to have a deft touch with the girls and has spent the last year turning a horse nobody wanted as a yearling into one of the top thoroughbreds -- male or female -- in the country.

"This filly can run all day long," Jones said.

She certainly looked like it in the Oaks, enjoying herself in the mud following an afternoon downpour that turned the track into a sloppy mess.

"We're still in line for tomorrow," Jones said. "You can't get it done if you don't win the first half."

After Bsharpsonata bolted to the lead, jockey Gabriel Saez simply kept Proud Spell under wraps over Bsharpsonata's right shoulder, then poured it on after turning for home to post her fifth career victory, running 1 miles in 1:50.01.

"I was trying to do the best job I can and put her in a perfect spot, and when I asked her to make a move, the filly responded really good," said Saez, who will pilot Eight Belles in the Derby.

Jones said it's no coincidence Proud Spell performs for Saez, the 20-year-old from Panama who has quickly formed a bond with Jones' best horses.

"Nothing rattles him," Jones said. "He's just calm and it passes to these horses and they feel it. … Now all he's got to do is repeat that tomorrow."

Proud Spell went off as the favorite and paid $8.80, $4.80 and $3.20. Little Belle surged to second and returned $6.40 and $4, while Pure Clan paid $3.80 to show.

"At the top of the lane my filly ran all out and I just couldn't catch up to the winner," said Little Belle jockey Rajiv Maragh.

Nobody could, paying off on Jones' bet that he didn't need two horses in the Oaks to capture a race he dreamed of winning while growing up in Hopkinsville in southern Kentucky.

"You never figure when you're chasing cattle with horses, you're just glad you had a horse that could finally outrun the cattle," Jones said. "We felt like we knew what it took to get here."

So did Proud Spell owner Brereton Jones. The former Kentucky governor thought Proud Spell was so small as a yearling that he decided to raise her instead of offering her up at the annual Keeneland sale, figuring it was a waste of time.

"We decided that nobody would want to buy her, so instead of taking her to the sale, we wanted to let her grow and let her be a horse," Brereton Jones said.

The kind of horse that hardly seemed bothered after a series of storms sent the crowd of more than 100,000 scurrying for cover.

"She can handle any kind of surface and actually Churchill's track, when it's wet, is very good," Larry Jones said. "Sometimes, I have problems with it when it's dry."

The wet conditions forced trainer John Kimmel to scratch Oaks entry Elusive Lady. Earlier Friday, 4-year-old colt Chelokee broke his right front leg during The Alysheba and was taken to Lexington for treatment. Chelokee is trained by Barbaro trainer Michael Matz, and the colt won the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico last spring.