Q-Racing Blog: Stay in the Buggy

Q-Racing Blog: Stay in the Buggy

Honoring the great horseman Johnny T.L. Jones.

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Johnny T.L. Jones Jr. died on November 16 at his home in Quanah, Texas. He was 84.

Johnny was an icon in American Quarter Horse racing and international Thoroughbred racing.

Many times, when leaving the Ruidoso Downs’ press box, he would look over and offer his signature saying, “Stay in the buggy.” If he walked by me and he saw that I was busy, Johnny would pat me on the shoulder. When I wasn’t busy, he would often sit down and we would visit about his iconic journey through life and racing. It was one incredible story after another.

There have been obituaries written about him on virtually every Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred website. Be sure to read them.

The Bloodhorse called him, “One of the (Thoroughbred) industry’s most influential figures.” The same can be said about his Quarter Horse involvement.

Let’s fill in a few blanks.

Johnny’s first venture in a breeding farm, located in Texas, failed. He stood Good Bird (TB) at the farm and he was proving himself as a sire. After that farm failure, Johnny went to work for Walter Merrick and took Good Bird (TB) with him. He was with Walter when they headed west to pick up a promising Thoroughbred stallion named Three Bars.

Johnny began training. In 1967, Walter had a 2-year-old colt named Jet Smooth, Easy Jet’s older brother, who raced in a futurity trial at La Mesa Park for another trainer, finishing third. Johnny called Walter. “Why don’t you send him down here (Ruidoso Downs) to me,” Johnny said. “He was paid up in the Kansas Futurity.”

Jet Smooth went to Ruidoso Downs and won his Kansas Futurity trial for Johnny. The Jet Deck son shinbucked in his trial and the finals were only 10 days away. Johnny expected Walter to come to Ruidoso and offer his guidance. “Walter showed up on Wednesday and didn’t say much,” Johnny said.

Jet Smooth scored his first stakes win in the Kansas Futurity.

Johnny said that it was a longtime goal to make it to Lexington, Kentucky. He succeeded with Walmac Farm, located on prime property on Paris Pike near Lexington. The farm recently sold for $4.8 million.

Walmac Farm soared as Johnny built connections with leading Thoroughbred horsemen in Europe. “I was lucky enough to get in (the European market) before things got crazy,” Johnny said. Walmac stood the European raced Thoroughbreds Nureyev, Alleged and Miswaki. Each stallion is still influencing international Thoroughbred racing.

The Claiborne Farm-bred Nureyev sold for $1.3 million as a yearling, the second highest-priced yearling up to 1978. That’s about $5 million in today’s dollars. The son of Northern Dancer was out of Special, also the second dam of Sadler’s Wells.

Nureyev was sent to France and trainer Francois Boutin, who had become friends with Johnny. Boutin told Johnny that Nureyev “was a freak.” In his final race, Nureyev was disqualified from the win in the classic 2000 Guineas. It was the only time a 2000 Guineas winner was disqualified and the classic began in 1809.

Johnny was friends with French horseman Alec Head and Head recommended Nureyev to Jones after the stallion had stood a year at Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard in France.

In 1981, Jones put together a $14-million syndication of Nureyev and the stallion stood at Walmac.

“The first 13 or 14 mares we bred to him all came up empty,” Johnny said. “The people from Colorado State (University) came and evaluated him. We then started breeding him 24 hours a day when the mare was ovulating.”

In 1987, Johnny was out of town and called the farm to check in. “I was told that Nureyev stuck his leg through a fence and broke it. I told them ‘Don’t be joking with me,’ ” Johnny said.

It was true and it was serious. Johnny rushed back to the farm. “I really didn’t do anything,” Johnny said. “I just stood back and cheered them on; I stayed on top of it. The veterinarians and everybody were great.”

Nureyev was at the clinic for about seven months and almost died several times. The clinic was next door and Jones spent $7,000 to bring a trailer up from Fair Grounds because that trailer could be lowered to ground level and Nureyev wouldn’t need to step up into a trailer.

It all paid off. Nureyev sired two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Miesque (winner of eight championships in the United States and United Kingdom), Breeders’ Cup Turf winner and champion Theatrical, UK horse of the year Zilzal, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and champion Spinning World and European champion sprinter Stravinsky from his 135 stakes winners and 20 champions.

After the accident, Nureyev was never turned out. He was either in his stall or being led.

Alleged was also American-bred and European-raced. He gained international acclaim when he won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1977 and 1978. He was the top-weighted horse in Europe each of these years.

The son of Hoist The Flag started 10 times with nine wins and a second in the 1977 St Leger and the 4-7 favorite.

Robert Sangster, another European friend of Johnny, owned Alleged and Johnny put together a $16-million syndication to bring Alleged to Walmac.

“Will Farish backed me on Alleged,” Johnny said. “We were lucky to get it done.”

Alleged, known for his vile temper, sired horses who preferred the grass and a distance of ground. Thus, many of his top offspring thrived in Europe. He sired 100 stakes winners from 978 named foals.

He sired champion and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Miss Alleged, two-time classic winner Midway Lady (who sold for $3.3 million as a broodmare), St. Leger winner Shantou, Champion Stakes winner Legal Case, Irish Derby winner Law Society, Irish St Leger winner Leading Counsel and Irish St Leger winner Strategic Choice.

Miswaki was another American-bred who gained fame in Europe. A son of Mr Prospector and the Group 1-winning Buckpasser daughter Hopespringseternal, Miswaki won the Group 1 Prix de la Salamandre for trainer Boutin.

“Miswaki was the last of the big three who put Walmac on the map,” Johnny said. He stood his entire stallion career at Walmac.

The sire of 97 stakes winners, Miswaki sired Horse of the Year Black Tie Affair. Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Urban Sea, Japan Cup winner Marvelous Crown and Irish Two Thousand Guineas winner Bachelor Duke.

It is Arc winner Urban Sea who is having an amazing impact on international Thoroughbred racing. She produced 11 foals and they include Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Galileo along with Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Sea The Stars.

It can be argued that Galileo is the world’s leading sire. The son of Sadler’s Wells is about to sire his 200th group or graded stakes winner. Two of those horses – Frankel and Nathaniel – are among the many Galileo offspring impacting racing.

Frankel was undefeated from 14 starts and the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings Committee ranks Frankel as the top racehorse since they began ranking horses in 1977. He is now proving to be a top sire for Juddmonte Farms from his first few crops to race. He was the leading sire of winners at Royal Ascot this year and in 2017 the Frankel-sired Cracksman was the highest-rated horse in Europe.

Nathaniel won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and is now best known as the sire of the incredible mare Enable.

Enable won the latest two runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the recent Breeder’s Cup Turf, and it was recently announced that owner Prince Khalid Abdullah (owner of Juddmonte Farms) will keep Enable in training for 2019 with the goal of winning an unprecedented third-consecutive Arc. She became the only horse to win the Arc and the Turf in the same year this past November 3. She could try to repeat that double in 2019.

Urban Sea’s son Sea The Stars, sired by Cape Cross, produced his first crop in 2011. He is the sire of nine Group 1 or Grade 1 winners and 69 horses who won or placed to Group or Graded stakes.

The 2019 stud fees for these descendants of Urban Sea reflect her prowess. Galileo is private and certainly the highest, Frankel is about $223,000, Sea The Stars is about $172,000 and Nathaniel is about $32,000.

After all of his Thoroughbred success, Johnny returned home to Quanah, Texas, to find renewed success and fun with Quarter Horses.

Teaming with longtime friend R.D. Hubbard, they raced home-bred champions Noconi and Brenda Beautiful along with Rainbow Futurity winner Planet Holland. Johnny was also breeder and part owner of two-time champion and all-time leading money earner ($2,781,365) Ochoa.

Johnny lived the fullest of lives.

Stay in the buggy, Johnny. RIP.

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