(Ellis Park / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the Ellis Park Media Team / Jennie Rees:

For all the races he’s won at his hometown track, trainer Larry Jones could be looking at his final shot to win one of Ellis Park’s signature races, Sunday’s $125,000 Groupie Doll Stakes.
Oh wait! That was last year’s story, when Jones saddled Istan Council as he contemplated retiring for a second time. But a year later, albeit with a smaller stable by design, Jones has another potentially final shot to gain his first victory in the Groupie Doll, this time with Salute the Flag.
A victory by Salute the Flag would be extra meaningful. The 4-year-old daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin is Jones’ last horse owned by Rick Porter, the Delaware car dealer and champion owner who died in June, 2021. After this season, Salute the Flag  — which Fox Hill owns in partnership with Siena Farm — will be retired, Jones said.
“It would be very great, you bet,” the long-time Henderson resident and Hopkinsville native said of Salute the Flag winning her stakes debut. “Hopefully that’s the idea, and we’ll go out the way we kind of came into it.”
Racing as Fox Hill Farms, Porter supplied Jones with standouts such as Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and Kentucky Derby runners-up Hard Spun and Eight Belles. Fox Hill’s Joyful Victory finished second in the 2012 Gardenia (as the race was named that year), but in her next start was second in Santa Anita’s Grade 1 Zenyatta Stakes and the next spring won that track’s Grade 1 Santa Margarita.
“Fox Hill was carrying me, between them and Airdrie Stud,” Jones said, referring to the farm owned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, who teamed with Larry Jones to win the Kentucky Oaks three times. “They carried me forever. I have nothing now for Gov. Jones and his family. This is the last of the hoo-rah days.”
But don’t look for Jones to hang up his saddle and boots completely.
“We’re still pulling the plug,” he said. “It looks like, hopefully by the end of this year, we’ll have it all down to just my own horses. I want to have a few of my own. This filly here will wind up retiring this fall. We’ve got a couple more for other owners that will be retired at the end of the year as broodmares. But I did tell them I would see them through to the breeding season.
“It might not be retirement for some people. But Larry Jones is going to get to sleep in a little later. He’s actually going to be able to drink a cup of coffee after sunrise maybe some day. I’ll still have something to do. I don’t know that I’m ready to hit the recliner 24/7. But we’re going to slow this dog and pony show down a little bit to where life is enjoyable. I enjoy horse racing. If I did something for a hobby, this is what I’d do. This will get to be my hobby now.”
Salute the Flag comes into the Groupie Doll off a June 11 Churchill Downs allowance victory. With jockey Mitchell Murrill aboard, she worked five-eighths of a mile in 59.20 seconds last Sunday, the fastest of 31 works at the distance.
“We feel we have her as ready as we can get her,” Jones said. “We just hope she’s good enough.”
The Groupie Doll is part of Sunday’s all-stakes Pick 5. The other races are the $125,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Juvenile, $125,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Debutante, $100,000 RUNHAPPY Audubon Oaks and the $200,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby.
The Audubon Oaks, Groupie Doll and Ellis Park Derby team with Saturday’s Beverly D., Lady Tak Stakes and Arlington Million from Churchill Downs to form the Bluegrass Pick 6, a $1 minimum bet with a mandatory payout and 15-percent takeout.
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Salute the Flag, winning a June 11 allowance race under Mitchell Murrill. Coady Photography
Salute the Flag at trainer Larry Jones’ Ellis Park barn. Jennie Rees photo
Crum has ‘L’ of a horse as Strava tackles Ellis Park Derby
Legendary University of Louisville men’s basketball coach Denny Crum loves to fish. He also loves horse racing. And it was fish that led the two-time NCAA Tournament championship coach to buy Strava, the 7-2 second choice in Sunday’s $200,000 RUNHAPPY Ellis Park Derby.
Well, actually it was a fish fry, not catching fish himself. Crum ran into trainer Dallas Stewart, with whom he’s had horses over the years, at a fish fry in Louisville last fall. Stewart told Crum about a 2-year-old colt he trained that had won his debut at Keeneland and was being offered in Keeneland’s November sale.
The retired coach was hooked.
“I said, ‘Coach, we gotta get a good horse,’” an ebullient Stewart said after Strava won a June 4 allowance race at Churchill Downs in his last start. “Denny said, ‘Let’s go buy him.’ So we went over to Lexington. After we bought him — he was a little expensive — he said, ‘I never get beat in Lexington. I got this horse bought.’”
Stewart added in true fish-story mode: “Naw, I just made that part up.”
Strava sold for $825,000, with breeder WinStar and Siena Farm staying in for half.
“It’s been a long time coming, it seems,” Crum said after the allowance victory, his first with Strava. “The way he finished up, our trainer did a heck of a job with him.”
Stewart thought about sending Strava to Saratoga but decided to stay home.
 “We felt like he had won going a mile, just keep him at the distance,” he said outside his Churchill Downs barn. “We didn’t want to back him up to 6 1/2 furlongs in the Amsterdam. I think he fits well in the Ellis Park Derby. He’s been training steady right here and we’re excited about taking him over there. (Crum) is a terrific guy and he’s been in the game along time. He’s great to train for. And this is a nice horse.”
Strava will wear Crum’s silks, which are in white and black and feature a cardinal and basketball. If he wins the Ellis Park Derby, Crum clearly will have himself an “L” of a horse.
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Strava winning a June 11 allowance race at Churchill Downs. Coady Photography