The Sound of Silence - by Dan Liebman

After winning the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) May 2, Airdrie Stud owner Brereton Jones talked of the relationship his family has developed with trainer Larry Jones and his wife, Cindy.

“The Jones stable is a small family operation, just like Airdrie,” he said.

In the twilight of the following day, Larry Jones also spoke of family after Rick Porter’s Eight Belles, whom he had saddled to finish second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), had broken down and had to be euthanized.

“These horses are our family,” the trainer said.

And losing a family member is never easy.

Larry Jones wanted to grieve in private. But he understands the role the media plays. Despite wanting to be alone with his wife, family members, and the filly’s groom, Corey York, Jones agreed to speak to reporters in the press box nearly two hours after the tragic event had played out.

Many trainers, understandably, would have declined the offer to address the assembled reporters, but Jones said the filly had gained a number of admirers and wanted them properly informed. “You want to go off by yourself but you owe it to the sport; the public wants to know,” he said.

Jones tried to fight back the tears, without success.

At 6 a.m. the following morning, the first stall by his tack room was closed, an Eight Belles sticker attached to the old, wooden door. Jones’ pony, Pal, was in the next stall, with Proud Spell to his right. In the next stall was the blanket of lilies won by Proud Spell in the Oaks.

In the tack room, Jones spoke about the family member they had lost. His wife, Cindy, cried again, her eyes bloodshot from having wept most of the night.

“When we walked her to the chute before the Derby, she stopped and never moved one foot,” Larry Jones said. “She had her head hanging and was letting us play with her. She thought she was the star of the show.”

During the walkover, in the paddock, and throughout the post parade, Eight Belles never turned a hair. Jones proceeded to a third-floor box above the tunnel to watch the race.

“When they came by the first time, she was happy,” he said. “She was not trying to get away from anybody or anything. The whole race, she never got bumped; never got touched.” After she crossed the finish line, Jones celebrated and headed toward the track.

“Kent (Desormeaux, who rode winner Big Brown) wasn’t jubilant like Calvin (Borel) last year,” Jones said. “Then I saw Gabe (Eight Belles’ jockey Gabe Saez) on the pony and he said, ‘Mr. Larry, they had to put her down.’ I ran for the ambulance.”

When Jones saw Eight Belles, he immediately knew what had to happen next.

But he is still mystified as to why it happened at all.

Jones took out his trainer’s license in 1982 and had two horses he bought for $800 each. Today, he has 50 in the barn, a number that will soon double when the 2-year-olds arrive.

In more than 25 years of training, Jones previously had three horses break down during races and a few others during morning training. You never forget any of them, he said.

In 2006, Jones was among the team of advisers selecting yearlings for Porter, Eight Belles being one of those they approved for purchase. She arrived at his barn after last year’s Derby, in which he sent out Porter’s Hard Spun to run second.

“I thought she was the one to get us to the Breeders’ Cup last year, but she never got into it mentally,” Jones said. “She didn’t know then how talented she was.”

On May 3, everyone found out how talented Eight Belles was. She was perfectly prepared, perfectly ridden, and perfectly happy.

She showed nothing but class on the racetrack.

The same can be said of her trainer.


Leave a Comment:

Erin G.

A previous Bloodhorse article suggested that one of the animal rights groups was calling for sanctions against Jones, Porter, etc. Can you explain why? Anyone who has followed Jones even briefly knows how well he cares for his horses; the ESPN trailer on Derby day with him exercising Eight Belles was a perfect indication of how in-sync he is with these horses.

06 May 2008 10:54 AM

excellent article,

Larry & crew,having had to have a horse put down after a spill at Churchill I know what you folks are going thru.while my horse was just a little claimer he was half of my stable at that time and the spill having happened on Thanksgiving day did not help. the crew at CD did a great job that day with 6 head going down the chance of a disaster was there.

I think the track vet.too is one that deserves a nod by his quick action, I hope you do not let the naysayers bother you to much and continue on.I think you have some good owners that will stand beside you and that helps.

good luck

06 May 2008 11:06 AM

Our hearts go out to all who loved Eight Belles.  Please know that there are thousands and thousands of people who grieve with you and have enormous respect for you.

06 May 2008 12:10 PM
Lisa A.

I'm not involved with racehorses, but I am a horse owner, and I too know the pain of the empty stall after a precious friend has been euthanized. Mr. Jones, please don't let any of the media frenzy get you down. You made the right decisions for Eight Belles, and you gave the world a chance to see how great she was. May time ease the pain of her passing.

06 May 2008 12:51 PM
Dave O'Leyar

The following comment was written to Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, regarding the loss of Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby 2008:

A final solution is probably years away but if no progress is made then horse racing may gain the reputation akin to bull fighting or dog racing.  Such a disposition also would not provide relief to the greatest victims of the problem, that being our beloved athletes the horses themselves.

I would proffer that we make an intermediate and immediate gesture of spending a bit of the considerable money garnered by the performance of these superb athletes on forming a health oriented team focused on creating tools which might help a horse suffering such injuries exhibited in the Eight Belles tragedy.  Why shouldn't some money be spent in an earnest effort to save the lives of the agents of this sport?

Shouldn't the noble efforts made on behalf of Barbaro and others to save their lives in recent years be rewarded with a greater effort to ensure the lives of our horse athletes if and when they have catastrophic breakdowns?

It would take a lot of money for sure but isn't it worth it to assure fans of the sport who suffer immense trauma when an equine athlete goes down?  Not to mention the loss of the public good will towards the sport when year after year we lose the very athletes who make the sport so special, we need to do better and soon.

06 May 2008 2:42 PM

As a horse owner and breeder of standardbred horses, Mr.Jones I know that in watching you interact with Eight Belles on the tv trailer prior to the race that you would not have put her in a situation that you thought would jeopardize her safety in any way, there is bond between horse and man that unless you are a horse person the nay sayers will not understand, and as you said they are family. I am very sorry for your loss.

06 May 2008 3:28 PM

There are people in horse racing who make the sport look bad. But Larry Jones is not one of them.

06 May 2008 3:55 PM

First my heart and thoughts go out to the connections of Eight Belles.  She was a great filly, showed us everything she had in the Derby. RIP pretty girl

As for Dave O Leyar, if you had watched the telecast, the vet even said it was a VERY painful injury to Eight Belles.  She had 2 broken legs, not just one that Barbaro had.  So it was pain and the fact it would be VERY difficult to stabilize a 900 lb Thoroughbred racehorse, not the issue of money, that forced the decision to put Eight Belles down.  Get your facts straight and stop trying to find a place to point the finger at.

06 May 2008 4:25 PM

Dave was not saying that the horse wasn't saved because of money issues, nor pointing fingers at anyone. He was saying that this tragic accident should be a catalyst in helping to develop new and better medical techniques that may one day save the lives of horses like Eight Belles, and that of the millions if not billions of dollars made in the horse racing industry each year, some should be set aside for medical research.

Dave and I watched the telecast, and our momentary elation at Big Brown's win was cut short when we saw the horse laying down on the track and knew what the likely outcome was. For me, it was like Barbaro all over again. In the wake of Barbaro, lots of money poured into New Bolton medical center to help fund research to help horses that suffer these sorts of injuries, and that money should continue to come in, from the industry itself. It should not take yet another tragedy like this one to remind us that these magnificent animals deserve the very best medical care available, and we should continue to strive to make even better care available in the future.

06 May 2008 4:45 PM

Mr Jones- I admire you for your horsemanship and care that you show for your horses.  I understand your grief and share it with you.  No one who has a heart can deal with these animals on a day to day basis and not feel the pain when they lose one in anyway.  You are a wonderful man-don't let all those crazies get to you.  Jen

06 May 2008 4:48 PM

Dave and Aelanna,

Your ideas would be very productive for the industry, however I think it is important to note that in this case, no amount of money or research could have saved Eight Belles.  As has been well established, it was a severe, painful injury and putting her out of her misery immediately was the most humane action to take.  In the case of more prolonged injuries, however, such as Barbaro's, every cent counts towards research that will lead to preventative strategies and cures.

Also, it is nice to finally see something that is treating the human connections of Eight Belles with the respect and sympathy that they deserve.  While any possible action to decrease Thoroughbred injury must always be taken, some people just cannot understand how rare this particular case is.  No matter how well we treat our horses (and we do), freak accidents like this, unfortunately, are unavoidable.    

06 May 2008 8:21 PM

jones, porters,and eight belles handlers, i cry with you no one can even comprehend the emptiness you feel at this time i remember when my horse broke her leg from a paddock accident it about killed me but the love you feel for horses will win out my prayers to you and yours but horseracing needs to find a way before the industry will be no more. people are getting sick of watching horses being destroyed on national tv.

06 May 2008 8:35 PM

Larry Jones, Gabriel Saez, and Rick Porter should not be scapegoats for the industry's shortfallings. Roy & Gretchen Jackson are rightfully considered heroes for their love and dedication to Barbaro, yet Larry Jones is under scrutiny for his decision to run a healthy, beautiful 3-year old filly in the Kentucky Derby. There are many changes needed to improve the health and welfare of equine athletes. Villainizing Larry Jones is step in the wrong direction. Eight Belles & her "family" have suffered enough.    

06 May 2008 9:19 PM

Mr. Jones there are many of us that share your pain and grief over the loss of such a great filly. We were lucky to have had some indication of how good she really was. Big Brown won but she beat 18 of the best 3 year old colts in the country too. Bless her heart, she gave more than we deserve and no one has the right to say she didn't belong in that race.  

06 May 2008 9:31 PM

Mr. Jones, you have shown class through all of this, just as Eight Belles ... a class group. Deepest regrets.

07 May 2008 5:23 AM

When I was twelve I witnessed Secretariat's brilliance.  I had a $150.00 4H horse.  When Ruffian died my interest in thoroughbreds died.

Thirty years later the plight of Barbaro brought me back.  I wished for Barbaro to know the sun on his back and the peace of the pasture.  

In my search to come to grips with the 2008 Kentucky Derby and the media aftermath I had a brilliant blonde moment.  

I have cried big crocodile tears over Eight Belles, just as I have over all the other horses lost to tragedy.

In my blonde moment it occurred to me that the reason we endure the pain of losing Eight Belles is to find Secretariat.

Watching Eight Belles, I remembered my horse, and when she galloped I was riding Pegasus.  

07 May 2008 1:04 PM
Gary Peacock

You do a wonderful job with your horses, deep condolences and may God bless you for the care you show to your wonderful athletes

07 May 2008 2:24 PM
Michael E.Moneta

My prayers go out to all of those connected to Eight Belles and especially to the horse.

God Bless You All !

07 May 2008 4:00 PM
russell maiers

Sorry her race ended this way to you Larry and all your family and the groom and everyone involved. When you said she was not quite ready mentally for the Breeders' Cup shows that the comments written before mine are right on. Real people know. The rest whatever. I will ask you a favor, because you are on the front lines,and that is to do whatever you can to make our sport safer for the horse. I believe you will. I sort of got to know you through Hard Spun. You have got to really miss him. He is one of the best I have seen and lookout if he could have ran this year, I still think he was the best of those three year olds.I just knew at four he would show us all. What a cool horse.He really inspired me. Eight Belles thank God touched so many and if you ever watch the replay, she had first run and had to wait twice. She looked magnificent as she was looking patiently to make her run. Big Brown could have been chasing her to the wire. Just an opinion, which does make horse racing great! I have personally lost two wonderful trail horses that were not wanted and ended up the best, darn those Arabians. Love and take care of them like you do Larry and make sure to help the groom, and exercise rider through this. Thanks for Hard Spun and Eight Belles. Two of the best!

07 May 2008 9:52 PM

What a great loss to all of us. I look at her loss this way. She was BORN TO RUN..RUN FAST..SHE WAS A RACE HORSE..With Thousands of people at C/D & all over the world cheering her on, it was to become the LAST DAY OF HER LIFE..We should All be that BLESSED." Rest In Peace..EIGHT BELLES "

08 May 2008 11:36 AM

If I ever get enough money together to have a racehorse, Larry Jones would be my first choice for a trainer. He trained two of the best horses in recent memory and I hope he trains alot more. Eight Belles was a wonderful filly and she will always be remembered with high esteem.  

08 May 2008 2:55 PM

I remember Gretchen Jackson's statement when they lost Beautiful Barbaro "grief is the price we pay for Love".I know that Eight Belles was loved so much, by so many and only time will help to heal the pain all of her family is feeling.God Bless you all!

08 May 2008 3:07 PM
Belles Forever

I have the deepest respect for Jones and Eight Belles' connections. She'll be forever missed. I still look forward to seeing other horses running in the red and white colors. I would hope one day to be able to meet Larry Jones. God Bless.

08 May 2008 8:06 PM
Judy Reinsma

Until the racing industry stops racing baby horses whose bones, joints, and ligaments are not fully mature and strong we will see more Eight Belles tragedies.  Her death is but one of the hundreds that occur every year on tracks across the nation.  

As an equestrian and endurance rider I know that horses can do amazing things - like racing 50 to 100 miles in a day over all kinds of terrain with normal sized riders.  Endurance horses cannot compete until they are 4 years old!  This is an Olympic equestrian sport and these horses are supreme athletes, many compete into their teens.  They outlast the thorobreds on the track because they are not run until their bodies can take it.   PETA  is using this death to attack horse racing and they would like to eliminate all horse "exploitation" which means any use of the horse except as a pasture ornament. Horsemen should be aware that the racing industry's high profile and these highly publicized "accidents" could harm all of us.  

It is time to stop racing baby thoroughbreds.  There should be a required bone maturity and density level before any young horse is allowed on the track.  They do love to run, but I doubt that they love to die.  

09 May 2008 10:52 AM
Viktoria Shell

Eight Belles was breathtakingly beautiful and she represented both her breed and her sex with the utmost of class and heart.

Her death was an incredible tragedy.  In that there is no debate.  However,let us please remember that an entire species (the horse) stands to suffer even more ills of our American socieity, than a horse suffering a fatal injury while racing, IF we jump from the frying pan into the fire as Peta would have us do.  

There is horse slaughter, where over 100,000 horses (young, old, loved, abused, stolen, tossed aside) are shipped to slaughter each year from just the USA.  There are horses starving and abused on people's farms and they are used up and tossed aside.  

If we try to close down racing, there will be even MORE horses than there are now suffering.  Go to just to see a little of the world of horse rescue.

Thoroughbred Racing, while not a perfect industry by any means, (with horse slaughter, cheater trainers using drugs, irresponsible breeders breeding horses without any real responsibility for what happens to that horse if the horse cannot earn money, etc., etc.)...

However, for the mostpart, the Thoroughbred racehorse (especially horses of the class of the Kentucky Derby) are pampered, almost worshipped animals, living the best lives that can be offered a horse.  I'd rather see a horse go down in battle (a race), doing what it was bred to do, (and humanely euthanized) than to see it shipped off to slaughter or starved in a field while neighbors and government look the other way, as it suffers and drops to the ground, its body taken back by the earth where it fell.

It is naive beyond belief to think this country (or any country) has room to give every horse born a wonderful life on a farm. (It would be my dream too, but it is just not possible.) There is not enough land and this year, there is not enough hay to feed them, thanks to the greed over growing corn for alternate fuel sources.  

The Thoroughbred babies begin their lives on such farms.  A rare lucky few, retire there when they are done.  THE LATTER IS THE REAL TRAGEDY of the horse.

Racehorses generally have enough feed and a safe place to live while in training for racing.

Even horses living the storybook life on a farm, free to run,  break their legs (racing with each other) in a field or kick each other and break their legs.  Sometimes horses just up and run into a fence and fatally injure themselves that way.  

Each year, a certain number born, will never make it to the track because they suffer fatal or career-ending injuries on the farm.  

I had a friend lose a mare in foal the other day, because a mare kicked her in the ribs, simply because one was the herd boss and one was lower in the hierachy.  It IS the life of horses on the farm!

How many horses die of colic every year and suffer horrifically, while their owners try to save them?  Horse racing is not cruel to horses.  They do love to do it and they are so proud of themselves when they know they do well.  BELIEVE IT!  As a woman, who would rather be around a horse, than most humans, I would never want to see a horse treated cruelly, not even by accident or ignorance.

In order for any positive change to occur anywhere, we first have to get a true perspective on things.

Eight Belles would want us to keep things in perspective for her breed and her sex (as well as all the other horses).  

Eight Belles died doing what most of us would prefer to die doing--THAT WHICH WE LOVE AND ARE BORN TO DO!  

Let her death and her legacy be a testament to her heart and her talent, not a judgment of the imperfection of her body.  

Just like Barbaro, Eight Belles can teach us so very much.  Don't let the hysterical voices of a questionable animal rights group drown out what horses mean to those who truly love and honor them as the incredible creatures they are!

Soar with the angels precious Eight Belles, just as you made our hearts soar here on earth!  Rest proudly among the champions!

Viktoria Shell,

Thoroughbred owner and breeder

09 May 2008 12:06 PM

PETA needs to re-evulate alot of their points. Many are incorrect or over-done.

Thoroughbreds are bred to mature fast, so yes, they are physically ready to begin racing in the 2nd third of their 2 year old year.

Eight Belles was a champion and shall remain that way. Mr. Jones handled the situation very well, as did the rest of the "family".

God bless.

10 May 2008 2:07 PM

Boom Zee Boom...Dollar Bill...Criminal Mind & the sweetheart of the rodeo...Second Of June will never be forgotten in our world...Long Live The King!!!

11 May 2008 2:31 AM
Ramzi Abuhaidar

I have been a horse owner and lover for over twenty years the sport of racing has been going on for eions. Some horses break down, some don't, does not meen they are not getting the best care. These horses love to run they were bred to run. We don't want to see horses breaking down on the track but we will watch two boxers on national TV beat each other to a pulp.  Sure it's a tragedy when a horse breaks down no one wants that but it does not happen that often. I feel for the connections of Eight Belles.

11 May 2008 7:02 AM
Janesville Liz

I feel very sorry for Larry Jones and his family, and for owner Rick Porter. They are not like some owners who run horses of questionable class in the Triple Crown races just for the ego boost they get of seeing their colors on national television. From what I have read, Porter and Jones poured over her speed figures and past performances to make sure she truly belonged in the race, and not to run her just as a publicity stunt.  And they were vindicated. Among those she defeated in the Derby were Colonel John, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, dual stakes winner Court Vision, Big truck and Tale of Ekati, both victors over champion War Pass, and Pyro, a brilliant stakes winner earlier this season. her performance was a testimony not only to her considerable talent, but to the judgement of both her trainer and owner in deciding to run her, and training acumen of Larry Jones. I am sick over what happened, and have cried a lot. I don't think anyone is to blame, though. She could just as easily have broken down in the Oaks the day before. I believe she took a wrong step, and it was like a house of cards, once one leg, so went the other one. It is extremely rare, the last Thoroughbred of national prominence I remember that happening to was Roving Boy in the early 1980s, who broke both hind legs galloping out after a victory in the Alibhai Handicap at Santa Anita.

Do I believe Jones and Porter ran an unfit horse--no. Jones loves his horses--you only had to see ESPN's pre-race piece on him and Eight Belles to see the rapport he had with her. A man who loves his horses like that would not put them in danger.

As for people accusing him of pumping her up with steroids because she was such a big filly--PLEASE!!! Look at her pedigree--her sire Unbridled's Song is a good-sized specimen, his sire Unbridled was large and athletic. I once saw Caro, the broodmare sire of Unbridled's Song, and he was a magnificent individual. Having studied extensively the mare La Troienne and her descendants, I can say that many of the mares descending from her that I have seen personally and photographed have been tall, rangy, generously-boned individuals--Relaxing, Numbered Account, Glowing Tribute, Princess Rooney, to name but a few. Eight Belles came by her size naturally.

Stop trying to place blame, and concentrate on having some good coming out of this tragedy. I want to see Churchill Downs come up with two new races, one on Oaks day and one on Derby day, each in honor of Eight Belles and Barbaro, respectively, and donate a large percentage of the on-track betting handle of those two new races to the Barbaro Fund and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. The memories of these horses will live on and benefit the lives of future horses--maybe another Barbaro or Eight Belles, whose hearts were bigger and stronger than their legs.  

13 May 2008 11:42 AM

Mr. Jones is a fine gentleman and a credit to himself, his horses, and the sport of racing.  I hope one day to have the privilege of meeting him even if just long enough to shake his hand. Eight Belles could not have been under a better hand or loved by better people. 

29 May 2008 7:42 PM

Recent Posts

More Blogs