09/02/2001 11:00PM

So long, legendary Jimmy Jones

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - As the son of a horseman widely recognized as the greatest trainer America ever produced, Jimmy Jones began his racing career with certain valuable assets but a lot of baggage as well. He made the most of the former and coped so successfully with the latter that he gained Hall of Fame credentials on his own merit before his retirement in 1964 to launch a new career as director of racing at Monmouth Park.

The passage of time lent prospective to his accomplishments, and at the time of his death at 94 Sunday morning in a Missouri hospital near his home in Parnell, his work was regarded as outstanding. His stature was such that his passing earned headlines from one end of this country to another, and in many racing centers around the world.

His greatest achievement was the development of Citation, who swept the Triple Crown classics of 1948 and went on to an incredible 3-year-old campaign of 19 victories from 20 starts. He stepped aside as trainer of record that year for the Kentucky Derby so that his father, Plain Ben Jones, could tie Derby Dick Thompson with a record four Derby victories. But it was Jimmy who trained Citation from the outset and who prepared him skillfully for the demanding classics.

Jimmy Jones's Kentucky Derby record is quite remarkable. He is officially credited with two winners: Iron Liege (1957) who won as a substitute when the brilliant Gen. Duke went wrong on Derby eve, and Tim Tam (1958), the underrated colt who won with a substitute rider when Bill Hartack was injured.

Jones came close to a record three consecutive wins but his colt Fabius, the eventual Preakness winner, couldn't quite hold off Needles's strong Derby finish in 1956.

Calumet Farm's 1952 Kentucky Derby winner, Hill Gail, had a hot-blooded pedigree and was extremely difficult to handle. Jimmy Jones worked with him all winter in California as he turned 3, and was responsible for getting him to Kentucky, where he was saddled for the Derby by the senior Jones. Thus Jimmy, under other circumstances, might have had four Derby winners.

Jimmy Jones had a keen sense of responsibility, enhanced early in his career by necessity. His father was a free spirit who lived life to the limit and often beyond.

On one occasion, when B.A. got into a celebrated fight while racing in Canada, authorities came looking for him, and Jimmy had to arrange a late-night escape across the border. There were other occasions, less dramatic in nature, in which Jimmy was obliged to take the lead to avert a setback for the stable.

He was an outstanding manager as well as a trainer. When Bull Lea died and Calumet's fortunes began to wind down, he kept the stable in the black and also funded expenses for the farm operation out of stable earnings. He dealt with many details in addition to his training duties and handled it all with aplomb.

He was a delightful man, with a fund of racing stories that he enjoyed recounting to stable visitors. He had a wide range of interests aside from racing and could converse knowledgeably on a variety of subjects including the Wall Street scene. He was a great admirer of Rudyard Kipling and kept a small book of Kipling's poems in his stable office, reading excerpts during occasional lulls in a normally hectic schedule.

He enjoyed good health during most of his life but the last few years took a toll, particularly when he was alone. Remarkably, he continued to drive a car almost to the end, and shared driving duties with a friend as recently as this spring, when he returned from Florida to Missouri. He entered a hospital in Maryville when a touch of pneumonia persisted, and was weakened subsequently by a series of strokes.

But he still expressed interest in the result of the Travers during a recent phone call. Racing was his life's love and he enjoyed it with a passion.

Kudos to Came Home, Cashier's Dream

The major 2-year-old stakes at Saratoga were both decided decisively.

Came Home, an arrival from California, was a two-length winner of the $200,000 Hopeful in a smart 1:21.94 4/5 for seven furlongs, giving him a record of three wins from three starts. Mayakovsky, who was making only his second start, showed how important seasoning is in such situations. But he should benefit from the Hopeful experience in the Champagne Stakes, which could be a rematch of the Hopeful principals.

As for the $200,000 Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies, Cashier's Dream was a six-length winner and obviously was pounds the best horse. You will see more of her in weeks ahead, and like Hopeful winner Came Home, she is a top prospect for the Breeders' Cup.