The Aging Process, like fine wine?

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Trainer J. Larry Jones adjusts equipment on Super Steed before scoring an upset in the G3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

 

 

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Super Steed and Terry Thompson

 

It’s February 2019 and I am 56. A former Thoroughbred trainer and assistant trainer, I have decided it is time to pass the torch to the younger generation. No more hands-on horsemanship, just sit behind a computer and watch TV. Boohooing over watching tape has replaced safety pins. Motor oil has replaced Reducine. Baby oil has replaced the elbow grease of putting a fake shine on your equine athlete. Hands-on horsemen are a thing of the past. It’s a numbers game, or is it?

Well on Monday at Oaklawn Park, while being ground level for the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), I saw a rejuvenation of two fine horsemen, one possibly headed to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Trainer J. Larry Jones, the native Kentuckian who temporarily retired from training in 2009, was saddling Super Steed in the race for 3-year-olds. The son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver was not respected in the wagering and was 62-1 entering the starting gate. Mr. Jones has won 1,127 races at the time of this writing with over $50 million in purses in his career. He has conditioned 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun, now a top stallion. And of course, he is known for the ill-fated Eight Belles, who lost her life on the track at Churchill Downs after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The day before, Jones saddled Proud Spell to victory in the G1 Kentucky Oaks, but the tragedy that surrounded Eight Belles overshadowed that victory. When the trainer took some time off in 2009, he passed the torch to his wife, Cindy Jones. Once Larry Jones’ health improved, he was back saddling horses in his name a little more than a year later. On any given day, Larry can be seen galloping his horses. His exercise riders ride their horses with their stirrups long and horses are allowed to stretch their legs at a good gallop. His style is unique and has proven effective throughout his career.

Terry Thompson, the 47-year-old jockey who also took a brief hiatus from the track in 2016-17, was aboard Super Steed. Thompson, who follows the Oaklawn Park-Prairie Meadows circuit, is a two-time leading jockey in Hot Springs and knows the dirt oval as well as well as any in the jocks room. Terry’s mounts had bankrolled $68,523,240 through Monday.

So, going to the post were two veterans who as successful they have been could be thinking about retirement. But in reality, they might be chasing the ultimate prize – the Kentucky Derby. It is a long, winding road to the first Saturday in May. When you watch your horse at the top of the stretch, you see maybe 20 horses while trying to pick yours out. Winning is an indescribable feeling. It’s business as usual with a loss. Back to the barn as deflation sets in attending your horse.

Super Steed steadied at the start. Settled behind horses, he received dirt in his face and made a sweeping move in the five-path, outside horses to win under a hand ride after Thompson dropped his stick near the eighth pole, according to Equibase chart callers. Jones gave Thompson strict instructions on riding the colt and it resulted in victory.

So, is this a game for the young, with 100-plus horses? Or is it hands on, old school horsemanship still a driving force to the winner’s circle? As I stood on the track waiting to get quotes from Thompson, the jockey took off his helmet and I was shocked to see him full of gray hair. I guess it is time to accept the experience and proven careers in the industry are still getting a one-way ticket to the winner’s circle. Well done, gentlemen!  Well done.

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