Race renamed in Eight Belles' honor
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Eight bells tolled in tribute to fallen filly Eight Belles on Kentucky Derby day, a year after her fatal breakdown following the Run for the Roses.
Members of the U.S. Navy tolled eight bells -- signaling the end of watch -- as the track fell silent and owner Rick Porter was presented a U.S. flag along with a portrait of his late champion.
Eight Belles was euthanized on the track after breaking both of her front legs following a second-place finish to Big Brown last May.
The ceremony took place before the renamed La Troienne Stakes, now named The Eight Belles Stakes in honor of the talented racer who became just the fifth filly to crack the top two spots in Derby history.
Porter thanked the thousands of race fans who have made the gray filly an icon since her death. A headstone honoring Eight Belles lays in the adjoining Kentucky Derby Museum.
"I think the toughest part was listening to those eight bells in front of 100,000 people," Porter said. "It just brings back a lot of memories, but you've just got to keep going."
The race almost had a storybook ending for Eight Belles' trainer Larry Jones and his wife Cindy. Favorite Just Jenda -- owned by Cindy and trained by Larry -- led heading into the stretch before being overtaken by Four Gifts.
Four Gifts, trained by Steve Asmussen, pulled away for a three-length victory in the 7½ furlong race for 3-year-old fillies.
The victor, however, was almost secondary. All eight fillies reached the finish line intact and healthy.
"Everybody came out of it good," Cindy Jones said. "That's the most important thing."
Larry Jones, who also trained third-place finisher Warrior Maid, was pleased with the way his horses ran.
"This filly of Steve's, we had already hooked her three times and she had beat us twice," Jones said. "So maybe she's just better than us."
Larry Jones, who did not participate in the pre-race ceremony, admitted the year since Eight Belles' death has taken a toll. He came under massive criticism following the accident even though Eight Belles tested negative for steroids. He has since become an advocate for medication reform. He announced last year that he is scaling back his racing operation following this year's Breeders' Cup.
"I just wanted to get through this one," said Jones, who will saddle Friesan Fire in the Derby later Saturday. "I may move my retirement up to tomorrow."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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