by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick

The story of James E. Jones, the co-breeder with Randy Swanson of Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks winner Crisp, is one that is so unusual for the Thoroughbred business that it almost defies belief.

In decades and years past, Thoroughbred racing and breeding, especially at the highest levels, generally had been reserved for wealthy businessmen or titans of industry (in other words, old, rich, white men). Racing partnerships have made the game more accessible to people of more modest means, and the expansion of the commercial market brought more risk-takers and speculators into the breeding side of the business. Still, even with those changes, there has not been a great deal of diversity in the Thoroughbred industry, especially when it comes to race.

That's what makes the story of the late James Jones, known as “J.J.” to his friends, so different.

Jones, the son of a Baptist minister named Joseph Jones, was one of 12 children raised in Jimtown, a small black community north of Lexington created in the 1880s to provide a home for freed slaves in the segregated south. Money was scarce, so Joseph Jones padded the income from his ministry by working as a groom at the famed Spendthrift Farm, then owned by Leslie Combs.

One day in the late 1960s, J.J. tagged along with his father, who was helping prep yearlings for an upcoming sale, and he was put to work, holding the yearlings while they were being shod. The blacksmith, a legend in the profession named John Madison who had worked with the likes of Man o' War, saw something special in the way young J.J. handled the horses, and soon thereafter the younger Jones was working alongside Madison as he made his daily rounds.

He learned enough to go out on his own at the age of 18, and his clients included some of the biggest names in the industry, including Darby Dan Farm, managed for years by Olin Gentry, Spendthrift, Gainesway Farm, and many others.

Olin Gentry, grandson of the Darby Dan manager and co-owner of Gaines-Gentry Thoroughbreds, is the third generation from his family to have called on Jones for his expertise, his father, longtime breeder and consignor Tom Gentry, also having used him as a farrier and blacksmith. “He could spread a horse's heels better than anyone,” the younger Gentry said.

John Hayes, who manages the farm for Gaines-Gentry, said Jones “had a technique that others tried but couldn't do as well,” but added there was much more to the man than his knack with shoeing a horse. “He always, always, always had a smile,” said Hayes, “and he could never say 'no' to anyone. He was a gentleman, very generous, and I never heard him say a bad word about anyone and I never him use a swear word. Just one of the greatest guys I ever met in this game.”

Jones wanted to breed his own horses, and with the help of former Spendthrift owner Bruce Kline and yearling manager Randy Swanson in the late 1990s claimed a mare named Thorough Fair for $5,000 at Turfway Park. Bred to Mr. Greeley (then standing at Spendthrift), Thorough Fair produced eventual Grade 1 stakes winner Whywhywhy, who now stands alongside his sire at Gainesway Farm. Jones sold the bargain mare, in foal to Giant's Causeway, for $825,000, at the 2005 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. The following year her son Spellbinder, also bred by Jones, won the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita.

Jones liked that family enough to buy Thorough Fair's half-sister Cat's Fair, for $14,500 at the 2004 Keeneland September yearling sale. Though unraced, she went on to produce Crisp, the second Grade 1 winner bred by Jones.

Were it not for the nose defeat of Quiet Temper in the Grade 2 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds, Jones would be one of only two breeders to have bred a pair of 2010 American Graded Stakes winners. The other breeder is Overbrook Farm, which has bred two individual AGS winners of 2010.

That's pretty heady company for James Jones to be mentioned in, but he is a man who rose above his humble beginnings to excel in Thoroughbred breeding and in life. A little over a year ago, B. Wayne Hughes, the current owner of Spendthrift Farm, invited Jones to his office one day to talk horses with a special guest, George W. Bush, who had only recently left the White House after serving two terms as president.

A couple of weeks later, on March 17, Jones collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack while shoeing a yearling at Sparks View Farm near Lexington. He was only 56 years old.

Fortunately, Jones passed along much of his knowledge about horses and foot care to a son, Jerard, who is following in his footsteps as a blacksmith after working with his father for nearly 10 years. His widow, Linda Denise Jones, and a daughter, Lisa, are carrying on the breeding business that had such remarkable success and showed so much promise at the time of James Jones' death.

Copyright © 2010, The Paulick Report

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