LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- If Larry Jones had any second thoughts about retiring at year's end, Saturday's 135th Kentucky Derby erased them.
With seemingly everything set up for Friesan Fire to give Jones his first Kentucky Derby trophy, the colt failed to fire, finishing 18th of 19, beaten 42 3/4 lengths as the 7-2 favorite.
The result came after Jones finished second in each of the last two Kentucky Derbies, with Hard Spun in 2007 and Eight Belles in 2008.
Friesan Fire was severely compromised by getting stepped on coming out of the gate. Though he raced in seventh position and in the clear down the backside, he backed up around the far turn under Gabriel Saez. Friesan Fire came back to the unsaddling area with blood emanating from his left front foot. He had part of his left front foot ripped off, known as grabbing a quarter.
"He got hit real bad leaving the gate," Jones said as he walked back to the barn. "He's bleeding. If you see blood on the track, it's his."
The result was a severe disappointment for Jones, who announced late last year that he would be retiring from training after this year's Breeder's Cup. Many didn't believe him, but Jones has already refused to take any 2-year-olds.
"They say I can't walk away from this?" Jones said as he walked back to the barn. "Watch me."
Things seemed to be falling into place for Jones and Friesan Fire. Early in the day, the morning-line favorite, I Want Revenge, scratched from the Derby with a sore ankle. The Churchill Downs main track was sloppy, which also seemed to favor Friesan Fire, who won the Louisiana Derby in the slop. Jones was extremely calm and relaxed while leading Friesan Fire over to the paddock.
"I really felt like it was set up for him," Jones said. "That's why I'm quitting, guys. The Breeders' Cup won't get here soon enough."
Friesan Fire's 18th-place finish was one of several disappointments for Jones on the day. Earlier on the card, Jones finished second and third in the Eight Belles Stakes, a race named in honor of the Jones-trained filly who broke down after finishing second in last year's Kentucky Derby. The Jones-trained Kodiak Kowboy finished seventh as the favorite in the Churchill Downs Stakes.
Jones noted that the filly that won the Eight Belles, Four Gifts, trained by Steve Asmussen, had previously beaten one of his fillies in the race, Just Jenda, two of the previous three times they met.
"We were hoping it was our turn," Jones said. "I told them send a message over to Steve reminding him it was our turn. Apparently the messenger didn't show up, because I know Steve's a nice enough guy he would have let us have it."
Jones displayed his humor and his good nature all day long. After arriving at his barn about 6 a.m., he was besieged by television cameras, reporters, and well-wishers throughout the day.
In the span of 45 minutes early Saturday morning, Jones did interviews with two local television stations and two with ESPN. He then spent about 15 minutes talking to a group of ESPN sponsors before posing for pictures with that group. One sponsor asked what he was going to do with all his free time.
"We have four grandkids we've never seen open Christmas presents," Jones said. "We've had 10 days off since 1980. I'm looking forward to drinking a cup of coffee when the sun's coming up as opposed to riding horses around in the dark."
An hour before post, as he was getting ready to lead his horse over, Jones couldn't believe Friesan Fire, who hadn't raced in seven weeks, was the favorite.
"I never dreamed I'd lead the favorite over there," Jones said.
"I'm afraid they're making him the favorite hoping we're going to win."
In the end, Jones was right.