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Eight Belles' trainer defends jockey
Associated Press

Track personnel try to hold down Eight Belles as jockey Gabriel Saez walks past Saturday. Eight Belles was euthanized after breaking both front ankles following a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.


Associated Press

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Published: 5/5/2008 12:13 PM | Updated: 5/6/2008 10:21 AM

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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The trainer of euthanized filly Eight Belles adamantly defended the way jockey Gabriel Saez handled the Kentucky Derby runner-up.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Larry Jones said Saez applied the whip only to prevent Eight Belles from crashing into the rail.

"This filly in every race has tried to drift toward the rail," Jones said. "It's her comfort zone, and Gabriel knows this. This kid made every move the right move, and I hate it that they're wanting to jump down his throat. He did not try to abuse that horse to make her run faster. He knew he was second best, that she wasn't going to catch Big Brown."

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Jones spoke while traveling from Churchill Downs to Delaware with his other prized filly, Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell. Jones is scheduled to have a news conference Tuesday morning near the paddock at Delaware Park.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called for Saez to be suspended, contending he should have noticed an injury and pulled the horse up rather than applied the whip.

In a statement Monday, Saez said Eight Belles never indicated anything was wrong.

"All I could sense under me was how eager she was to race," Saez said. "I was so proud of her performance, and of the opportunity to ride her in my first Kentucky Derby, all of which adds to my sadness."

PETA also announced plans to protest the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority on Tuesday, arguing for major changes, including a ban on using the whip or racing horses younger than 3.

KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood said Monday that racing stewards found no evidence of wrongdoing by Saez. The authority also released a statement responding to PETA's proposals, arguing that many of them were premature or unnecessary.

The Humane Society of the United States also weighed in Monday, arguing that horses are becoming more fragile because they're being bred for speed, not durability.

"There are problems coming to light more than ever -- problems related to breeding," said Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society president. "Breeding too many horses, and waiting for someone else to clean up the problem. And breeding them for body characteristics that make these animals vulnerable to breakdowns, especially those spindly legs on top of these stout torsos."

Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian at Churchill Downs during the Derby, acknowledged there was merit to that argument. He suggested there should be more financial incentives for horses who display longevity, rather than just the ability to come up big in one huge race.

Jones said he has watched the race from various angles and found that not only did Saez do nothing wrong, but everything right.

"We're putting him on multimillion-dollar horses, and I think this kid represented our business as professionally as could be run," he said. "If I were to run in the Derby tomorrow, I'd put him right back on my horse."