06/09/2010 11:00PM

Another Jones-bred success

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LEXINGTON, Ky. − Almost four decades have passed between La Zanzara and Drosselmeyer. The two horses bookend nearly the entire married life of Aaron and Marie Jones, La Zanzara being the first stakes winner they owned and Drosselmeyer the first classic winner they bred.

Since buying their first racehorse in 1971, the Oregon couple has owned two champions, Lemhi Gold in 1982 and Tiffany Lass in 1986, and bred two more in Ashado and Speightstown in 2004. Drosselmeyer's win in the Belmont marked the first time a Jones-bred won a Triple Crown race, and he is one whom, just a few years ago, the couple probably would have kept to race themselves.

But since Aaron Jones, now 88, handed the reins of the Joneses' Thoroughbred stable to Marie in 2007, the couple has wound down its racing string − the Joneses have no horses in training now − and focused on breeding to sell.

The Joneses bred Drosselmeyer on a lifetime breeding right to Distorted Humor and sold him for $600,000 at the 2008 Keeneland September sale to his current owners, Ken Troutt and Bill Casner of WinStar Farm.

Even before the 2007 transition, the Joneses have sold horses for big money, including their Saint Ballado colt Warhol, who brought $4 million in 2001, and Speightstown, who sold for $2 million in 1999.

But Aaron Jones has always preferred that horses he bred give him a good run for his money, Marie said. When Ashado and Speightstown won the 2004 Breeders' Cup Distaff and Sprint, they made the Joneses only the second breeders in Cup history, after Frank Stronach, to have two winners on the same card. Jones celebrated the rare feat but also lamented that he and Marie had sold the pair.

"Why didn't we keep them?" he wondered aloud.

"When Drosselmeyer was just a yearling, Aaron kept saying, 'I want to keep that one,' " she said. "This is quite unusual for him, this selling. He's not one to sell anything. He has probably still got the first boat he ever had. But things have changed a lot, and sometimes you have to make a decision you think is best for the horse and not necessarily for yourself."

Frank Taylor, the Joneses' longtime advisor at Taylor Made, said: "They deal in high-quality horses, and they've got a good plan they stick to."

The couple has 21 horses in its barn at the Nicholasville, Ky., farm, including Drosselmeyer's dam, Golden Ballet, now in foal to Unbridled's Song.

Taylor credits the Joneses' trainers, from Laz Barrera to Todd Pletcher, as factors in their success.

"Like any business, you hire good people, deal in quality, and have a plan," Taylor said. "With a little luck, it works."

That much hasn't changed, Taylor said. But the management focus has.

"Mr. Jones just loves the competition and the action," he said. "He likes making money, too, but he'd step up and pay $1 million or $2 million for a yearling and take a shot. He liked the high-risk, high-return deal, and fortunately, he hit it big with a couple."

Taylor reeled off a list of successes, including the notable Bob Baffert-trained Forestry, a $1.5 million yearling who became a graded winner and a good stallion, and Saint Ballado, whom the Joneses bought as a stallion prospect.

These days, Marie Jones is more conservative.

"My husband understands why I'm going this way," Marie said of the new, solely commercial focus. "He doesn't travel as much as he used to, and of course I want to be home with him. We both love the horse business so much, but it's not as much fun watching your horses race on TV if you can't be there. So this is our way of continuing, and who knows? I'd love to see us have horses again on the track."

Drosselmeyer was one of the first yearlings to sell under the new commercial-only policy. They selected their two-time Grade 1 winner Golden Ballet for the mating with Distorted Humor in 2006. The Joneses had bought her for $1.6 million at the 2001 Keeneland November sale. By the winter of 2006, they had bred stakes winner Stage Luck (by Unbridled's Song) from her. Stage Luck, now 6, was a $1.6 million yearling sale to Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley Stud, and they had also sold Golden Ballet's two other foals before Drosselmeyer for a total of $1.025 million.

The Joneses were hoping for a Classic runner from the mating.

"I think speed has been the number-one concern for too long, and I'm glad to see that stamina is coming back in," Marie Jones said. "We've always believed in that. You want that classic stamina in them, that they can go the distance in the Triple Crown."

WinStar Farm principals Troutt and Casner, who won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with homebred Super Saver, put Drosselmeyer on their short list when he was still a foal. Their selection team, led by Elliott Walden and Doug Cauthen, makes a point of tracking foals by any WinStar horses from an early date. And they are regular visitors at Taylor Made, with whom they stand several stallions in joint ventures.

"He has physical presence," Casner said of Drosselmeyer. "He's just a hard horse to pick on. He was gorgeous and moved well, and of course we love the Distorted Humors because he consistently throws that grit, that try.

"We wouldn't have paid $600,000 for him if we weren't thinking 'classic horse,' " he said. "That's normally what we'd want to pay for three yearlings. But he was everybody's favorite, and it was a team decision."

Marie Jones said Thoroughbreds started as a hobby that could allow her husband to relax from his career in the Oregon timber industry. Instead, he threw himself into their pastime with the same effort he put into his work.

"He approached Thoroughbreds the same way he approaches his other businesses: You have to give your best and expect the best by giving your best," she said.

The Joneses gave up Thoroughbreds once, in 1990.

"My husband had cancer back in 1990, and we had a dispersal at that time," she said. "We sold our mares Tiffany Lass, Belle Marie. It was grueling, and that was very tough. I'll never forget the emotions that ran through my body. I kept a couple of horses for myself, because we knew that my husband would recover from his cancer, and I knew he'd always loved horses. It was something that would get him away from the lumber business, something to enjoy. So gradually, we got back in again."

When Aaron Jones was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about three years ago, the couple agreed she would take over the horse operation. This time, she never considered a dispersal.

"We love the horse business too much," she said. "When we're in Kentucky, we go out on a little cart and spend hours just out there in the paddocks watching the mares and yearlings and foals. There's nothing else like it. My husband has an amazing eye for conformation. He always has, and he has wonderful memories of racing. It's still part of his life and always will be, and mine, too.

"He's going to be 89 in September, and for 89 years old he's doing very well," she said. "He'll always be my partner. It's good for him to participate in it. The Taylors are so good at sending pictures of our horses each month, and it's nice to see a little spark in his eye when he sees them. He wants to keep each one."

When Drosselmeyer crossed the finish line to win the Belmont, the Joneses were watching the race on television in their home in Eugene, jumping up and down, Marie said, like excited children.

"It was just so exciting for us, for the horse, for WinStar," she said. "I just knew with that long stride of his, this was his race to show what he was made of. I wish we could have been there."