It’s one day out from the Oaks, I’m sitting in the Churchill Downs press box, and it’s an absolutely serene day here in Louisville. I sure hope it’s like this tomorrow…
After talking with owners, trainers, and breeders over the last week, I’ve been surprised by the number of heartwarming stories that are coming out of this year’s race. I spent some time with Tom Braly, who owns Evening Jewel with his wife Marilyn a couple days ago outside trainer Jim Cassidy’s barn, and his enthusiasm for the sport and vigorous spirit amazed me. In spite of the health issues that he has been riddled with—he was diagnosed with a form of leukemia several years ago—Braly is still going strong.
He called Evening Jewel, winner of the Ashland Stakes (gr. I), “the best kind of therapy” for his ailments. You can’t help but root for a filly with connections such as this.
“This one just came into our life…and it’s been a ride you’ll never forget,” said Braly. “I was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, and it’s been a rough battle the last few years. This horse has been the best therapy that’s ever happened to me. I’ve had chemo, radiation, and all that stuff…this horse is worth a million bucks in that respect.”
Completing the trifecta of horses that I will be rooting for due to sentimental reasons (as well as the fact that they are extremely talented fillies) are Crisp and Quiet Temper, who were both bred by the late James Jones.
Jones, who with his wife, Linda Jones owns a small, 45-acre operation near Lexington, died last March of an apparent heart attack at age 56. A native of Central Kentucky, he collapsed while shoeing a horse last spring at Sparks View Farm near Lexington.
The regular blacksmith at B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm, James Jones was also the breeder of the graded stakes-winning half-brothers Whywhywhy and Spellbinder. The former was one of the best 2-year-olds of 2002, winning the Futurity (gr. I), Sanford (gr. II), and Flash (gr. III) Stakes.
As a stallion, Whywhywhy sired Breeders' Cup winner Nownownow. Spellbinder, who was based in California, won the 2006 San Antonio (gr. II) and Berkeley (gr. III) Handicaps.
Linda Jones, a native of Dayton, Ohio who married Jones in 1974, said her husband had been breeding horses for around 25 years. “He could read a horse…he usually bred horses based on their conformation,” said Jones, noting that her husband studied the horses’ physical qualities while performing his blacksmith duties, a task he had worked at from the time he was 18.
Now that her husband is gone, Linda, her daughter Lesa and son Jerard share the daily duties at the family farm, where they still keep a handful of mares and yearlings, including Dead Aim and Cat’s Fair, the dams of Quiet Temper and Crisp, respectively.
Linda, who will watch the Oaks from her home, is now fully concentrated on what tomorrow may bring when two of the horses her husband bred will carry on his legacy in the Run for the Lilies.
“It’s really emotional for me; I’m just speechless,” she said of Crisp (by El Corredor) and Quiet Temper (by Quiet American), who are both graded stakes winners. “I wish James was here to see it all. It really is a gift from God. I’m glad his name is well known now. He always wanted to go out with a bang, and I believe he did.
“This is just amazing. I never thought we would make it this far.”
So now that I’ve told you all who I like in the Oaks, tell me you like and why. I’m going to leave you with a few more videos of some of the Oaks fillies on the track here at Churchill throughout the week. Let me know what you think. Footage by the great Alex Cutadean.
It's Tea Time