The best athletes in every sport have a great team behind them.

And the team should consist of individuals who understand what it's like to walk a mile - or run one and a quarter miles - in his shoes, even if those shoes are forged in steel.

Morgan Mill resident and owner of Equine Athletes Larry "Thumper" Jones believes that philosophy is especially important in the equestrian world.

Jones is one team member whose career - and a four-legged client - could lead him to the Triple Crown where "I'll Have Another," winner of the 138th Kentucky Derby, could make history again.

Jones, an equine chiropractor and massage therapist, spoke with the Empire-Tribune while awaiting a flight to Baltimore en route to the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes which will take to the track Saturday, May 19.

He shared a philosophy that has apparently added up to a winning combination for his Erath County business built on 30 years of helping horses stay in prime condition by performing 42,000 treatments in 13 countries.

"The final line is that we are all servants to this horse," Jones said. "He is the one that is going to get us across the line. That's why I think we have a good chance. So many people in the industry want to be the ones getting served and the horses get neglected. Those who are successful take the back seat and always think of the horse."

Jones is one of several individuals who shadow the thoroughbred that was called a "long shot" by horse racing enthusiasts and surprised onlookers at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

The chestnut colt won with a 15-1 shot becoming the first horse to ever win the Kentucky Derby from the 19th post.

If "I'll Have Another" takes the title at Preakness, and trainer Doug O'Neill and "Team O'Neill" follow him into the winners circle for a third time at Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York, the so-called long shot will become the first Triple Crown winner since "Affirmed" in 1978.

Jones, 53, said he has "never been so high," but as an ex-athlete himself, he's aware proper care is a key factor in every winning combination.

It could easily be said fate led Jones to become a horse therapist. He actually planned on being a star athlete himself. Growing up in Canada, Jones was a hockey player and Memorial Cup winner, but an injury led to early retirement.

Calling it everything but botched, Jones said an unsuccessful surgery and "major league pain" led him to seek the assistance of a chiropractor who put him back together in 12 days. Once he was back on his feet, Jones embarked on a new career.

"I was raised around horses, so I went directly to horses," Jones said.

Still riding on the "derby high," Jones' wife, Laurie, was preparing to join her husband in Maryland when she spoke about her first trip to the Kentucky Derby.

Laurie said Equine Athletes' connection with Team O'Neill, which includes an entourage of experts who meet for daily discussions about the condition and care of the prized colt, began in January.

Not long after Jones and his right hand man, Rio King, flew to California to work with "I'll Have Another," a bond between the men and horse immediately began to take shape. As that bond was reflected through the colt's racetrack success, the men were asked to join Team O'Neill.

"I think they were both horses in another life," Laurie said, referring to her husband and King. "They have such a remarkable understanding of horses. When Larry goes into a stall with a horse you immediately sense his presence causes a calm."

Laurie said his "genuine love for horses" drives him to see those under his care get the best rest, energy, food and exercise possible.

"Every night is so special for us, the horse is like our baby," Laurie said, adding they spent 10 days at the Kentucky Derby caring for the champion colt. "Every night when all the people had finally left, Larry massaged the horse until he would lay down to rest and really sleep. Larry would come to bed and say the horse was 'finally snoring.' That is so important for any athlete."