02/02/2012 1:57PM

Joneses keep up with times in breeding business

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LEXINGTON, Ky. − Just for the record, Aaron and Marie Jones aren’t slowing down their involvement in the horse business. Kentucky’s recent breeding stock sales should have dispelled any thought that Aaron’s 90th birthday last year would prompt one of Thoroughbred breeding’s most successful couples to take up a more sedate hobby than the high-stakes adventures of racing and commercial breeding.

A day after Drosselmeyer gave them their first Breeders’ Cup Classic win as breeders, the Joneses paid $1.5 million for a new broodmare, stakes winner Bonnie Blue Flag carrying a Medaglia d’Oro foal, at Fasig-Tipton’s November auction. They also were among the bidders for the Keeneland January sale-topper, Topliner, though they pulled up shortly before Katsumi Yoshida’s agent, Naohiro Hosoda, made the winning $1.4 million bid for the Thunder Gulch mare and her in-utero Medaglia d’Oro foal. Last year, the Joneses also bought Grade 1 winner Evening Jewel privately for their broodmare band.

This year it looks like they will have a couple of well-bred juveniles to carry their silks, too: a Distorted Humor-Cindy’s Mom colt and an Unbridled’s Song-Flying Glitter colt. And Marie Jones, who manages the couple’s bloodstock holdings, also has added a new representative, former WinStar president Doug Cauthen, to work with their longtime adviser, Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Farm.

Like many other commercial breeders, the Oregon-based Joneses have trimmed their broodmare band, from 21 to 17 in the last couple of years as they have focused more on maintaining the highest quality – their plan even before the bloodstock crash and recession in 2008. The new acquisitions aren’t a departure from that plan, Marie Jones said.

“Some of my mares are getting old, and I just wanted to add to them,” Jones said of the couple’s most recent burst of auction-ring activity. “Silken Cat [Speightstown’s dam] is getting up there, and so is Joy Valley [Riboletta’s dam]. I just think you’ve got to always have your eyes open and make sure you have an opportunity to invest in some of the top mares coming through. I think the market is getting better, and this is the price you have to pay today for good quality mares. You have to be prepared for that to compete in that market.”

Investing in blue-chip mares is the safest route through any Thoroughbred market climate, because quality always sells best. Having bought new mares expensively in a rising breeding stock market, the Joneses hope the 2012 and 2013 yearling prices also will continue to rebound to make the mare investment profitable.

“I was disappointed last year,” Jones said. “But that happens. Some years are up, and some years go down. It just wasn’t a good year for me. But I do think the market is getting better, and I’m very happy to see that in the horse business. We need that, and I think it’s going to get better.”

In 2012, the Joneses expect to have about 11 yearlings for auction, and the new foals have started arriving, too. Silken Cat was the first mare to foal, producing a Tiznow half-sister to 2004 sprint champion Speightstown.

“Frank [Taylor] said that after she foaled, the mare went out in the pasture and started kicking and bucking,” Jones said. “She’s 19. She must have been thinking, ‘Thank goodness I’ve got all that weight off me!’ I’m looking forward to going back to Kentucky in February so I can spend some time seeing some of the mares foal. I love that part of the business, to be there and be part of that. I think planning the matings is my favorite, and, number two, you want to see the foals. That’s a precious part of the game. I’d like to get to Kentucky four or five times a year. You can buy horses and never see them, but that’s not any fun. That’s not the business. You’re here to plan the marriages and see what the mare can produce, see how the foal grows, how the mare’s doing. It’s so exciting!”

The Joneses’ mares have their own 23-stall barn at Taylor Made in Nicholasville, Ky., but the barn isn’t full at the moment, and it’s likely to have some empty stalls for a while, Frank Taylor said.

“We were buying some mares to support some of the stallions, like Master Command, Half Ours, and Forestry,” Taylor said of the Joneses’ previous program, which revolved around their stallion holdings. “Mrs. Jones has kind of gotten away from that and is focusing on at least graded stakes mares that are producing graded stakes horses and breeding them to the top 10 or 15 stallions. It’s tough right now on the commercial breeders, because the very best mares have been harder to buy than the very best yearlings, but I do think that when you develop the very, very best quality, it will pay off in time. And it costs just as much to keep at $100,000 mare as it does a $500,000 or $1 million mare.

“They’re both very good horsemen,” Taylor said. “They understand conformation, they understand the business, and they’re very good at it.”

Marie Jones has long been the more market-minded half of the Jones operation, and she’s the one who began moving the couple’s breeding program away from homebreeding and toward the auction ring. She remains committed to selling but acknowledges that she misses the racetrack.

The Distorted Humor and Unbridled’s Song colts provided a handy opportunity to head for the races when they didn’t reach their reserve prices at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling auction.

“They were horses who had little issues that we just didn’t think they brought as much as they should [at auction] because of those little vet issues that our vets thought they could run through,” said adviser Taylor.

If they do, those colts might lead to more Jones homebreds at the track, Marie Jones hinted.

“We may expand in the racing,” she said. “I miss it. We’ll take it a step at a time, and I really am enjoying the breeding a lot. But down the road I’d really like to get back to some racing.”