02/17/2010 12:00AM

Jones gets some help keeping pace

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Mortality has been getting more than its share of ink lately, working the racing game in its usual, indiscriminate way.

Mystery novelist Dick Francis was 89. Betty Mabee, of Golden Eagle Farm and Del Mar, was 88. Mary Jones Bradley, owner of Hall of Famer Cougar II, was 90. Fellow turf writer Larry Bortstein was 67. Pedigree analyst Jack Werk was 65. Midwestern trainer Eddie Milligan Sr. was 66, and the young Irish jump jockey Ronan Lawlor was only 21 the other day when he was thrown from a horse into an unforgiving timber post.

John Nerud also turned 97, and next week Noble Threewitt, living now in Northern California, marks birthday No. 99, so don't bother to look for a pattern. If there is a lesson, it should be that the rest of us should celebrate the noteworthy among us while they still are. Among us, that is.

Gordon Jones, at 79, had his own glimpse of the choir eternal last month and is delighted to be able to tell the tale. The popular handicapper and former racing writer for the old L.A. Herald Examiner was certainly dressed for the grim eventuality, though, when he donned his tuxedo and boarded a flight on Jan. 18 for the short hop from his Las Vegas home to attend the Eclipse Awards Dinner in Los Angeles with his daughter, HRTV analyst Joanne Jones.

"I blacked out for about five seconds at the airport before I got on the plane," Jones said this week, back home in Vegas. "When I got to L.A., I told Joanne what had happened, and we talked to my sports med doctor out there. They all said get thee to the Huntington Hospital as soon as you can."

After a battery of tests, it was determined that Jones needed a pacemaker.

"I've never had many operations, which is to say I've never had any," said Jones, who was a professor of journalism at USC and Arizona State before putting his talents to better use. "They gave me a local anesthetic, and the doctor and I joked all the time he was cramming it in there. A very funny experience. They later said I was one of the most relaxed, conversational and pleasant patients they've ever had. And I'm not that kind of guy."

Mary Bradley might have seconded the sentiment. While known to the racing world as Mary F. Jones (prior to her marriage to businessman Bob Bradley), she had a traumatic turn in the media glare back in the days when the heat was powered by newspapers like the Herald Examiner and advocacy journalists like Gordon Jones.

Unlike Betty Mabee, whose late husband John was a towering presence in the sport, there was no Mr. Mary Florsheim Jones Bradley sharing the spotlight. Mary Bradley played on her own hook, marshaling her inheritance from the family shoe empire to maintain an appropriate lifestyle while buying and breeding an impressive string of runners. Beginning with Duncan Junction in the late 1960s, they included the likes of Swingtime, Castilla, Exploded, Riot in Paris, Our Suiti Pie, Live the Dream, Greinton, Whittingham - whom she named for her trainer - and champion Cougar II.

Charlie Whittingham once called her the "luckiest owner I know," which was high praise, of a sort, and freighted with the fact that luck goes 'round as it did in the events surrounding the 1973 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Displeased with the most recent collaboration of horse and rider, Mary Jones told Whittingham to replace Bill Shoemaker aboard favored Cougar, and use Laffit Pincay. To a broad and passionate base of racing fans, this was roughly akin to benching Kobe or trading Drew Brees.

Age 39 at the time, Shoemaker was racing's most iconic figure. Gordon Jones took exception in print to treating the jockey with such disdain, and the public's furor rained down upon the owner.

"She wasn't too fond of me after that," Gordon Jones said. "You remember Allan Malamud's classic headline on my story: 'Florsheim Heiress Gives Shoe the Boot.' She was booed in and out of the paddock that day, and she never spoke to me again."

Some things take time, especially since Cougar and Pincay finished third, five lengths behind the victorious Kennedy Road, who was ridden by - who else? - Bill Shoemaker.

Jones is grateful he still gets to recall such tales. The past month has been one of accommodation and gratitude. He is also back to work, pointing his analysis in the direction of another Kentucky Derby trail.

"For a while you sleep on your back," Jones said. "Then you can gingerly turn to the side. I'm just now getting back to sleeping on my stomach, with one hand raised and the other hand down. But I'm not supposed to raise my left hand yet, because they say that might disconnect the wiring.

"So now I've got the $6,000 gold and titanium, one-inch device in my chest," Jones added. "All it's really done is end my career at Chippendale's. I can no longer go topless. I look at it as a shot across my bow, and I saw the shot. The good news is I've been told I might end up with five percent more stamina and mental focus, and I could use that five percent."

And as for life ongoing with a pacemaker calling the tune?

"My doctor said he could tell me one thing," Jones said. "That I would not die of a heart attack. It's going to be something else."