Filly Eight Belles set to start against boys

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Kentucky Derby is loaded with tradition, part of which dictates that usually only colts run in America's greatest race.

The fillies have their own showcase on Derby eve, the Kentucky Oaks.

But Larry Jones, Kentucky born and bred, doesn't give a hoot about that particular ritual.

So expect to see filly Eight Belles in the starting gate for Saturday's 134th Derby, surrounded by 19 boys.

"The best way to get me to do something is usually to tell me I can't do it," Jones said Sunday. "My wife does that all the time."

The 51-year-old trainer plans to enter the gray filly in the Oaks as a backup, but said, "We intend to run Eight Belles in the Derby."

And why not?

The filly with the four-race winning streak turned in Sunday's second-fastest workout, running 5 furlongs in 58.20 on the dirt at Churchill Downs. Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John was timed in 57.80, fastest of 62 workouts at the same distance.

"She's run as fast as they have," Jones said. "I feel better with her at a mile-and-a-quarter than I did with Hard Spun. You have to pull on her in the morning to get her to stop. With Hard Spun, you'd tell him to stop and he'd say, 'OK.''

Hard Spun finished second behind Street Sense in last year's Derby. A filly hasn't won the garland of roses since Winning Colors in 1988, and none has started since 1999.

"If a guy wants to take a shot, it's his right," Colonel John's trainer Eoin Harty said about pitting a girl against the boys.

Eight Belles is half of the girl power in Jones' barn.

His other filly, Proud Spell, will run only in the Oaks.

"The owners are trying to help me by keeping these fillies apart," he said. "We feel good about both spots."

If more than 20 horses are entered in the 1-mile Derby, then the list of graded stakes earnings decides the 20 starters.

Proud Spell could easily get in the Derby field; her $880,000 total is second to Pyro. Eight Belles ranks 16th with $210,000.

Proud Spell is owned and bred by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, no relation to his trainer.

"If the other filly were not involved, we'd be more inclined to consider the Derby," the former governor said. "Either one of these fillies would have a good shot at winning the Derby. You can't win them both (Oaks and Derby) until the two fillies are spread out."

The former governor said he would consider Proud Spell for the Preakness if she does well in Friday's Oaks.

Colonel John's sizzling workout Sunday was his last major one before the Derby, when the California colt will race on dirt for the first time.

"It wasn't my intention to go that fast, but it wasn't my intention the track was going to be this fast," trainer Eoin Harty said. "I think it's more the track conditions than my horse doing a little too much."

The big question at the start of Derby week was how Colonel John would handle a dirt surface because he has raced and trained almost exclusively on the newer synthetic surfaces in California since beginning his career at Del Mar last summer.

"I thought he handled it very well. It looks like he hasn't changed his style or his motion," Harty said, pointing out that Colonel John trained on dirt as a 2-year-old before coming to his stable.

Harty originally scheduled Colonel John's workout for Monday, but the forecast calls for rain so he moved it up.

Also going ahead of schedule were trainer Bill Mott's duo of Court Vision and Z Humor. Both went 5 furlongs, with Court Vision timed in 1:00.80 and Z Humor in 1:01.20.

Colonel John likely will be the second favorite behind Big Brown when post positions are drawn Wednesday. Colonel John has won 4 of 6 career starts and wasn't worse than second in his two losses.

He's a son of Tiznow, the two-time Breeders' Cup Classic champion who won those races on dirt, including once at Churchill Downs.

"I look for every positive sign," Harty said. "It certainly can't hurt."

Big Brown galloped once around the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida and was scheduled to arrive in Louisville on Monday evening. He will work out Thursday.

Trainer Todd Pletcher's trio of Behindatthebar, Cowboy Cal and Monba went out on Keeneland's synthetic surface in Lexington. Behindatthebar galloped 1 1/2 miles, while the other two walked after working out Saturday. The trio will arrive in Louisville on Wednesday.

Bennie Stutts Jr. was feeling relieved Sunday after checking in on his colt Smooth Air, who has had a low-grade fever. The colt jogged just more than a mile in his first workout since last Thursday.

"I didn't sleep well last night, but I will tonight," the 70-year-old trainer said. "I came in this morning and saw that empty feed tub and knew he was all right."

On Smooth Air's way to and from the barn, a black cat crossed his path.

"If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it," owner Brian Burns said. "Maybe two black cats mean good luck. I think it was a setup for us that they had the cats in a cage and just let them out when we went by."