LOUISVILLE — After thoroughbred trainer Larry Jones suffered a serious fall from a horse just over a year ago, his doctors suggested the 58-year-old give up his daily ritual of riding horses.
"They said, 'You may not have another fall in you,'" Jones said Friday. "I told them, 'Well, I'll have one fall in me. I may not have another get-up in me.'"
The native of Hopkinsville keeps getting up, mind you, and he keeps winning the Kentucky Oaks.
Friday marked his third as Lovely Maria, Keene-land's Ashland Stakes winner owned by former Gov. Brereton Jones, ridden by 56-year-old overnight success Kerwin Clark and trained by J. Larry Jones, captured the 141st running of the sport's No. 1 race for the distaff set.
Never miss a local story.
Jones became the fifth trainer to win at least three Oaks, repeating the success he had with Proud Spell in 2008 and Believe You Can in 2012. Both those fillies were owned by Brereton Jones, as well.
"It's so good to be in business with good people," beamed Larry Jones during the post-race news conference.
Truth be told, the trainer is blessed just to be here. Known for being his own exercise rider on horses that he trains, the 6-foot, 180-pound Jones took a nasty spill off a spooked 2-year-old during training hours at Delaware Park that produced life-threatening injuries.
Remember, the popular trainer famous for his cowboy hat and winning ways had retired in 2010 when he believed he was experiencing the early signs of dementia only to discover he was suffering from high levels of aluminum in his body.
Once that was corrected, Jones returned to training and conditioned Havre de Grace to Horse of the Year honors in 2011 when the filly won five graded stakes that year, including the Woodward against the boys.
After winning his second Kentucky Oaks in 2012, Jones was rolling along the following spring when Easter weekend he landed hard and face first in the Delaware dirt after the most serious fall of his career.
"Everyone was concerned about it but me because I knew nothing about it," Jones joked Friday.
Rendered unconscious, Jones was rushed to a nearby hospital where it was discovered that in addition to two broken ribs and a bruised lung he was experiencing bleeding on the brain.
Placed in a medically induced coma, Jones was being prepared for brain surgery when he stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated. Once Jones was stabilized, the doctors discovered the bleeding had stopped.
"I think the real reason they didn't do the brain surgery is because they couldn't find it to work on it," Jones cracked. "When they went back in and did the MRI all the bleeding had quit and went away. And that was Easter Sunday. Great things happen on Easter.
"The doctors told me that doesn't happen. My wife (Cindy) said that on Easter anything can happen."
Five weeks later, Jones was on his way back. He found his truck, which his family had hidden from him during recuperation. He also went back to riding his pony. The dizziness he had experienced after the fall disappeared as soon as he climbed back on a horse.
Now things are back to normal. "The great thing about me," Jones said, "is I don't have to come up very high off the bottom to get back to normal."
He is not your normal trainer, however. Few in the history of the sport have exhibited such a golden touch with fillies. Jones has now entered six horses in the Oaks. Not one has finished worse than fourth.
"I'm not good at it, I promise you," Jones said. "I have owners that let me bring horses here that are getting good at the right time."
If that's stretching the truth a little, this is not.
"Really," said Larry Jones, "I've been blessed."