By the time Sunday morning turned to
afternoon, Proud Spell was already back in her stall at the Fair Hill Training Center in northeastern Maryland, about a 51⁄2-hour drive from Saratoga Race Course.
Larry Jones, Proud Spell’s trainer, driver and exercise rider, left the Clark stakes barn shortly after
6 a.m., a dozen hours following her thrilling head victory over Music Note in the Grade I Alabama, the premiere 3-year-old filly race of the summer.
“Right now, everything looks good,” Jones said “She’s back home, and doing quite well. Yesterday was just a great feeling, really just a great day all the way around. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Her Alabama win not only avenged Proud Spell’s nightmarish loss in the Grade I Mother Goose at Belmont Park in June, but allowed her to wrest the division lead away from Music Note, who had won four straight starts, including two consecutive Grade I races.
Proud Spell has now won the the Alabama, Grade I Kentucky Oaks, Grade II Delaware Oaks and Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks in 2008, the latter handing Eclipse Award winner Indian Blessing her first career loss.
Since 1936, eight fillies have won both the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama, with three going on to become champions: Open Mind (1989), Silverbulletday (1999) and Farda Amiga (2002).
Those who didn’t were Make Sail (1960), Quaze Quilt (1974), Optimistic Gal (1976), White Star Line (1978) and Flute (2001).
“It’s hard to think you could win both of the biggest 3-year-old filly races in the year and not be the Eclipse champion,” Jones said. “She was the first to knock off a champion in Indian Blessing, and she’s won every major Oaks there is around. I certainly think she’s deserving.”
Jones was pleased to see Proud Spell win back the respect she earned in the Kentucky Oaks. She had a rough trip running second to Music Note in the Mother Goose, only to get disqualified to third for interference with Never
Retreat, emerging with several lacerations.
Wheeled back 14 days later, Proud Spell won the $500,000 Delaware Oaks by less than a length over African Violet. A week later, Music Note romped in the Grade I $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks by 11 lengths.
“I was a little disappointed that everybody got off Proud Spell’s bandwagon because she had won the Delaware Oaks,” Jones said. “Everyone said it looked like she had to work to win that race; I guess so, coming back in two weeks. The horse than ran fourth to her came back and won the Monmouth Oaks for fun. I think it was a good field.
“I think they downplayed the Delaware Oaks way too much, and then instantly gave Music Note, I thought, more credit than maybe she deserved in winning the Coaching Club. But she was impressive. I’ll be honest with you, it was hard not to like Music Note after that race. I was right along with them.”
Jones is unsure where Proud Spell will run next, but mentioned the Grade II $750,000 Grade II
Cotillion at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 20 as a possibility.
Meanwhile, Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said Sunday morning that both Music Note and Godolphin-owned stablemate Little Belle, third in the Alabama, exited the race in good shape.
“They came out of it real good. We’re real, real happy with them,” Mettee said. “They both scoped clean and cooled out fine, and they were both good this morning.”
It was the first loss for Music Note since her career bow last October, where she ran fourth. She came back 18 days later to break her maiden before being put away for the year, before being moved to Mettee from trainer Tom Albertrani.
Music Note didn’t get underway at 3 until winning an entry-level allowance at Belmont on May 22, and followed with back-to-back Grade I scores.
“She’s done a lot in a short time,” Mettee said. “When [Proud Spell] won the Kentucky Oaks, this filly hadn’t even run yet this year. She’s kind of done a lot quickly. These fillies, they don’t always fire every time, but she showed up yesterday, and fired.”
Mettee said Suroor felt the best comeback spot for Music Note may be the Grade I $250,000 Gazelle on Sept. 13 at Belmont, where she is
3-0. Little Belle, who won the Grade I Ashland on Keeneland’s Polytrack in April, may return there for the Grade I Spinster on Oct. 5.
“Everybody keeps telling me it was a great race, so I’m going to take their word for it,” Mettee said of the Alabama. “Obviously, the ramifications of that could be huge, getting beat a head in that race. They’ve each won Grade 1’s, but that filly won the Alabama and the Kentucky Oaks. You’ve got to respect that.”