Trainer Larry Jones plans to retire after next year's Breeders' Cup, ending a career in which he trained Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell and Kentucky Derby runners-up Eight Belles and Hard Spun.
"I'm just physically tired, and it seems like I have a hard time keeping everybody happy," Jones said.
Never miss a local story.
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Jones said that before this fall's yearling sales, he called several clients — including Rick Porter, who owned Eight Belles and Hard Spun — and told them not to buy any horses with the intention of having him train them.
Jones, a native of Hopkinsville, said he will continue to train the horses in his stable at least next year but expects to be mostly retired after the 2009 Breeders' Cup. As for the elusive goal of winning the Kentucky Derby, Jones called next year "more than likely my last shot."
Porter said Jones mentioned two weeks ago that he planned to retire once his current horses finished racing, but the trainer's decision is a "complete shock to me." Jones is racing his stable at Delaware Park.
"I knew Larry was all stressed out, burning the midnight oil," Porter said Tuesday. "I didn't think it had gotten to the point where he would throw in the towel."
The Thoroughbred Times reported that horses trained by Jones have compiled more than $23 million in purses. Through Monday, he had 640 wins, including 25 graded-stakes victories, over 3,445 starts.
Jones said the tragedy of Eight Belles' death after the 2008 Kentucky Derby weighed heavily on him.
"I'm not saying it took a toll on the decision, but it took a toll on my life," Jones said. "It's hard to keep letting yourself get so involved and so attached to these things. Not that I would do anything different, even today, but do I want something like that to happen to me again? No I don't."
Jones endured the brunt of criticism over the second high-profile breakdown during a Triple Crown race in three years. He called the days following the Derby the most trying of his career.
Critics charged Jones with injecting Eight Belles with steroids and said jockey Gabriel Saez worked the whip too forcefully in the final yards.
A steroids test came back negative, and Jones defended Saez's ride. That didn't stop the protest letters from filling Jones' mailbox as he found himself becoming the chief defender of racing.
Eight Belles' death has helped change some of racing's rules. More than 10 states have adopted a steroids ban, including Kentucky, and the Breeders' Cup will be run in California this year with a ban on anabolic steroids.
Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones owns Proud Spell, one of the year's top 3-year-old fillies. He wasn't surprised by the trainer's decision.
"Larry is a fabulous person, a wonderful guy. He's a very hands-on trainer. He likes to feed them himself, he rides them himself. He enjoys doing that," said Jones, who is not related. "He all of a sudden found himself training not the normal 40 or 50 but 125 or more. It was just more than any mortal human could do the way he likes to train horses."
Porter agreed that Larry Jones' increased workload influenced the decision.
"Physically, he feels exhausted," Porter said. "He needs a breather. When he gets it all settled out, gets down to a reasonable number of horses, I'd bet a lot of money he'd be back."
Jones acknowledged he wouldn't rule out a return. But, for now, he says his focus is on spending time with his family.
"I have worked my entire life; 2003 is the last time I took time off," he said. "On Christmas Day, I'd be out at the barn feeding horses. I think it would be nice to sit in the house and drink coffee."