Updated on 09/15/2011 12:26PM

Jimmy Jones: A lifetime in the game

Daily Racing Form
Top: Jimmy Jones (right) with his father, Ben. Middle: Jones and Citation, Eddie Arcaro up. Bottom: Jones with pals Tim Tam and Buck the dog.

PARNELL, Mo. - The original Horace Jones was a Civil War veteran working his way west from Iowa when a ferocious blizzard drove him to seek shelter with a family living near a bend in the Platte River, about eight miles south of the Missouri state line. Grateful for the hospitality, he stayed, acquired land, and founded the town of Parnell.

The three-story red brick house that Jones built in 1904 is now owned by his grandson, Horace Allyn Jones, the man they call Jimmy. Still bright red with aging white trim - the colors of the old Jones Stock Farm - the house stands on the corner of Mill and Grand, a few blocks west of Parnell's city park and not too far from the old railroad depot, abandoned decades ago.

"It was the damnedest thing," Jimmy Jones said. "We woke up one morning and looked out to see them pulling up the tracks. That was it. The town never really had a chance after the railroad left."

Parnell may have withered - the population now stands at 157 - but the Jones family thrived. The descendants of Horace Jones still farm large chunks of his 20,000 acres. Communities near Parnell have remained vital, among them Sheridan, Ravenwood, and especially Maryville, where such companies as Kawasaki, Wal-Mart, and EverReady built megastores and factories, and where St. Francis Hospital is doing well enough to undergo a major renovation.

Jimmy Jones, 94, is in a private room in St. Francis, trying his hardest to recover from a bout with pneumonia that kept him from attending the Kentucky Derby this spring. His absence was noted, since the Jones name and the Derby are deeply intertwined, with no fewer than eight winners credited to either Jimmy or his father, the late Ben A. Jones.

The Jones home is crammed full of those Derby memories. Those, and 25 years worth of success with the Calumet Farm runners of Warren Wright and his wife, Lucille. No other homebred breeding operation has approached their level of accomplishment, and no father-son training team has ever rivaled the Jones Boys.

On the walls of Jimmy's home, packed into trophy cases, and piled in stacks in every corner, the evidence is overwhelming. There is an oil painting of Whirlaway, winner of the 1941 Triple Crown, hanging in the study, and one of his silver-plated shoes on the coffee table. The Hall of Fame plaque earned by champion filly Real Delight was leaning behind a chair. And there, peaking out from a shelf full of silver cups, was the trainer's replica of the three-cornered Triple Crown trophy, won by Citation in 1948.

Peggy Jones, Jimmy's late wife, converted the sun porch into a Citation Room, with memories of the great champion adorning every wall. There are also personal touches, such as a framed photograph of J. Edgar Hoover dedicated to his "valued friends, Peggy and Jimmy Jones," and a copy of "A Wild Ride," by Anne Hagedorn Auerbach, detailing the rise and fall of the Calumet fortunes.

Jimmy Jones was there for the rise and got out before the fall. After the retirement of his father in 1953 from full-time training, Jimmy went on to win Kentucky Derbies with Iron Leige and Tim Tam, the Preakness with Fabius, and major stakes with the likes of Miz Clementine, On-and-On, A Glitter, Yorky, and Barbizon. In 1961, three years before his retirement, Jones led the national purse standings for the fifth time, edging fellow Hall of Famer "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons.

The most telling corner of the Jones home is in the sitting room, in front of an unused fireplace. To the left of the hearth, resting on a pedestal, is the Hall of Fame plaque of Ben A. Jones. To the right, identically displayed, is the plaque of Horace A. Jones. A globe stands between them.

The two men were more than just a world apart. Their only real connections were blood and horses. That was deep enough to keep them in business together for many years, but beyond that they had little in common.

Jimmy tends to close up when asked about his father, but a few things still leak out. "He was a quarrelsome man," Jones said. "As a young man he was harum-scarum. His father didn't know how to handle him. Nobody did, really. He was one tough baby.

"Many a time he'd come home bloody and bruised. My mother would patch him up as good as she could. Tried to turn me into a fighter, too. I mixed it up a couple times. My heart wasn't in it. We never got into who was the better man, who had the better haircut. No sense in that.

"He was a great horseman, though. One of the greatest ever. He could make 'em run. What he done with Whirlaway was pure genius."

Jimmy Jones is not the kind of man to chew on the past. If there is one lingering regret, though, it is over Citation. Jones developed the big colt as a 2-year-old and was pointing him for the 1948 Triple Crown when Ben made the decision to put Citation in his name at Churchill Downs that spring. A victory would have given Ben Jones his fourth Derby winner, raising him to a tie with H.J. "Dick" Thompson.

"That was a battleground for us," Jones recalled. "That wasn't right."

At the time, at least for public consumption, Jimmy acted the part of a team player.

"I almost quit over that," he said. "But I couldn't. I never had a better job."

Citation was returned to Jimmy's care after winning the Derby. He started 12 more times in 1948, winning all 12. Little wonder that Jones takes special pride in his bronze replica of the graceful Citation statue that has stood for so long at Hialeah Park.

"He was a real he-horse," Jones said, barely hiding his admiration. "Could run on anything. Great mudder. We got greedy and ran him at Tanforan. Came out of the race with osselets. They fired that leg while it was still hot and near ruined him. Leg was like a stovepipe. He wasn't himself when he ran in California. I've always regretted that."

In spite of his bad leg - an osselet is a bony growth - Citation retained enough class as a

5-year-old in 1950 to set a world's record for a mile and finish a close second, under crushing weights, in five handicaps. Jones brought Citation back for one last hurrah in 1951 with the goal of making him racing's first millionaire. They got the job done in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

"I'm pretty proud of the way I brought him back that second time," Jones said. "When he hit the wire in the Gold Cup, he was retired."

A few years later, Jones finally heard what he was longing to hear, even though it came in a roundabout way from fellow trainer Bill Finnegan.

"My dad told Finnegan that he guessed I was a pretty good trainer after all," Jones said. "Finnegan told me. And that was that."

Next stop, Miami

The squat, square gravestone of Jimmy Jones rests in the shadow of a massive maple tree in Rose Hill Cemetery, just off Missouri state road 46 on the outskirts of Parnell. The marker - Horace A. Jones, Nov. 24, 1906 - is nestled between those of his mother, Etta Jones, and his wife, Peggy, who died in 1983. The body of Ben Jones is laid to rest nearby, as is that of Marion Twaddell, who was Jimmy's companion until her death in 1998.

Jimmy Jones has no plans to join them soon.

"I'll be 95 in November," he said. "I'd like to go to Miami this winter. Too cold to stay around here."

If Jones makes it to Miami, there will be reason to rejoice. That will mean he has regained the strength he has lost because of circulatory problems, pneumonia, a series of small strokes, and the infirmities of age.

Harold Voggesser, Jimmy's friend and accountant since 1959, noted that Jones will be able to stay at St. Francis as long as is required. Beyond that, Voggesser said, his affairs are in order.

"Jimmy has arranged for gifts to several hospitals and charities, and to four museums," Voggesser said, naming the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield, and the Nodaway County Historical Society Museum in Maryville, where the Jones Boys are hailed as hometown celebrities.

Jones also stepped up several years ago with a sizeable donation toward the effort to rescue the trophy collection of Calumet Farm and give it a permanent home at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

As for Parnell, well, there's not much Jones can do about his hometown, despite the fact that ground has just been broken on a million-dollar sewage system project.

"It's finished," Jones said as he tried to polish off a tray of hospital food. "Like back when I was mayor. There was no money then. There's no money there now."

Still, Parnell always will be remembered as the home of the Jones Boys of Calumet Farm, whether or not there is a Jones in residence.

"Oh, I'm not through yet," Jones said. "And whoever cooked this chicken, you can tell 'em congratulations. They made the toughest damn chicken I ever tasted."

Then he smiled and delivered the punch line. "But don't tell 'em until after I leave here."