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    Renewed Health and Star Filly Have Trainer Back in Classic

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    Magdalene

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    Renewed Health and Star Filly Have Trainer Back in Classic

    Post  Magdalene on Thu Nov 03, 2011 9:32 am

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two years ago Larry Jones pulled his white cowboy hat over his eyes and rode off the racetrack and into the sunset, swearing he was done training horses. He was cranky on his way out, too, blaming his owners and their incessant demands for taking all the joy out of the only thing he had ever wanted to do.
    He was putting himself out to pasture, Jones declared, returning to his farm in southwestern Kentucky to throw the ball with his six grandchildren, to bounce the little ones on his knee. What Jones was not telling anyone was that he was frightened that he was losing his mind.

    For months, he had headed off in his pickup, pulling a load of horses and forgetting exactly where he was going. Putting names to faces, no matter how familiar, had become a chore. He was perpetually anxious and disoriented.

    And worse, his horses, whom he galloped in the morning, fed in the afternoon and looked in on night after night? They had become strangers to him.

    “I had dementia and was certain the early stages of Alzheimer’s had set in,” said Jones, 55. “I was afraid I was going crazy.”

    Jones had not lost his mind at all. He was ill, though, and it took months of tests, some new-age therapy and old-fashioned common sense to return a smile as wide as his bowed legs to Jones’s face.

    He is back in balance, chemically and spiritually, now that he has a big horse, a filly named Havre de Grace, and a smaller, more manageable stable than the one he left behind.

    Whether or not Havre de Grace wins the 28th running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday to cap a remarkable year is out of Jones’s hands. She is the second choice in the morning line but the public’s sentimental choice on the strength of five victories in six starts and the fact that she is taking on an accomplished field of 11 male horses.

    Sometimes, though, you have to let go, and Jones got a brutal lesson in the truth of that aphorism over the past two years.

    That the strapping bay filly’s name is French for Harbor of Grace is fitting for Jones and her owner, Rick Porter. Havre de Grace has been just that for both men since they reunited in January.

    They had been partners and friends until they were not.

    It was Porter who had discovered Jones on racing’s grits-and-hard-toast circuit, running cheap horses and winning races in bunches in the sport’s backwaters like Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., and Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa.

    What he saw was a hands-on horseman who spoke his mind, treated his horses like pets and didn’t rely on a veterinarian’s handiwork. What Jones saw in Porter was a kindred spirit who had the money to back his passion.

    They ran their outfit out of Delaware Park and the state where Porter made a nice living as a car dealer. They won, too — the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff with Round Pond and the King’s Bishop with Hard Spun, who went on to finish second in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The next year, they came here to Churchill Downs with perhaps the biggest-hearted filly either had ever seen.

    Her name was Eight Belles, and on the first Saturday in May she ran the race of her life, finishing a hard-charging second to Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby. The filly literally died trying, taking a bad step past the finish line, shattering both front ankles. She had to be euthanized right there on the aisle of America’s cathedral of thoroughbred racing.

    “It broke a lot of hearts, especially ours,” Porter said.

    In the wake of Eight Belles’s breakdown, Jones, a trainer who had never had a medication violation, was accused of running a lame horse. Hate mail rolled in with graphic threats.

    It mattered little that the necropsy on Eight Belles found no pre-existing bone abnormalities, disease or condition affecting the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems or other major organs. No steroids or any other illegal medications were found.

    “It brought our sport to its knees, and me and Larry took it on the chin,” Porter said. “I really couldn’t blame anyone if they didn’t want to watch another race ever again.”

    While later that summer Congress convened subcommittee hearings to discuss the health and welfare of racehorses, Jones continued to notice that he was not quite right mentally.
    He was angry — at Porter as welcheap nhl jerseysl as another of his owners, Brereton Jones, the former governor of Kentucky, whom he had won the Kentucky Oaks for the day before Eight Belles went down. Most of all, Jones was mad at himself.
    He had 114 horses in his barn, or three times the number he had ever had. For the first time, there were horses he was caring for that he had not ridden in the morning.

    “I had one filly, a half-sister to one of my favorite fillies, Payton d’Oro, that I’m embarrassed to say I never laid eyes on,” Jones said. “She was always at some other track. All I’ve ever wanted to do was get on the back of a horse, and I had too many to do that.”

    He can still feel his blood pressure tick up at the memory as he takes his hat off and frowns.

    “I’m a guy who cuts their hair, fusses with their shoes, hauls them from track to track,” Jones said. “I wasn’t doing that, and I didn’t have any relationships with my horses, and it was breaking my heart.”

    So he told Porter and Brereton Jones and all the others to get lost and he quit. On Nov. 7, 2009, he turned 40 or so horses over to his wife, Cindy, and finally went to the doctor.

    “Training horses ain’t a job, it’s a lifestyle,” he said, “and there’s a big race every single week. I kept telling myself I’d go see a doc next week. But next week never came.”

    Jones knew he had high blood pressure, and two pills for that quickly reined in the anxiety. The cause of the dementia, however, took longer to figure out. Alzheimer’s was ruled out, and he appeared to possess a healthy enough brain.

    By February 2010, Jones’s doctornfl jerseys wholesales decided that he had absorbed dangerous levels of aluminum, a result of working 17 hours a day and slathering antiperspirant on his body in between his two and three daily showers. He needed to go natural in everything from his grooming products to an intense internal cleansing.

    “I had to detox,” he said, in the gee-whiz singsong voice that was common on the old television show “Hee Haw” and still is in Hopkinsville, Ky., his hometown. “My doctor told me there was going to be days I wasn’t going to be able to get out bed once the poison started pouring out.”

    So Jones carved out a modest schedule of galloping a few horses in the morning for Cindy. “This country boy wasn’t going to no gym,” he said. Instead, he marveled at how his inflamed liver started to quiet and shrink.

    “Folks ask me how much weight have I lost,” he said, “and I tell them I’m still the same 180 pounds I’ve always been but now my organs aren’t all puffed out.”

    Last fall, he was feeling good enough that playing ball with his grandchildren seemed to be no longer as fulfilling. Then, he said, he had a visitor.

    “The good Lord had a conversation with me,” said Jones, who is breezy and matter of fact about his faith. “He told me that he had given me a talent, a blessing, and it was time for me to get my butt off the couch and start training horses.”

    So Jones called Porter and asked him to send five horses. Porter had more than 30 he wanted to send, but Jones insisted he wanted only five. Porter put Havre de Grace and four others on a trailer and sent them to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

    Porter is still smiling.

    “If you can’t have fun with Havre de Grace and crazy old Larry, you might as well be doing something else,” he said.

    Crazy Old Larry, too, has rediscovered the joy of horse hair sticking to his chaps and the wonders a fast horse can do for your soul. The other morning, downCheap NFL Jerseys the road at Keeneland in Lexington, Jones galloped 11 of his horses over a three-hour stretch.

    He didn’t see anyone as old as he is out there, but he was certain no one had mistaken him for the fresh-faced young buck he still sees in himself.

    “I felt good, but I was blowing pretty hard,” he said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was darn glad when it was over.”

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