Consistency, patience and two men named Jones are responsible for the galaxy of gold and silver (left) in the Pine Room at Mr. and Mrs. Gene Markey's Calumet Farm home at Lexington, Kentucky. Few, outside of those expressly invited by the owners, have ever seen the five Kentucky Derby trophies (center shelf), the five Pimlico Special trophies (second shelf from the bottom), the four Jockey Club Gold Cups (bottom shelf) or the four of the five Preakness cups (bottom shelf, right).
This year, Calumet's silver anniversary in Thoroughbred racing brings a special pride to Mrs. Gene Markey, who has been at Calumet since it started racing three horses in 1932. At that time she was married to Breeder Warren Wright, who died in 1950. Happily remarried, she has kept Calumet in operation ever since. Today she says, "If we do win another Kentucky Derby, Pd find room for the trophy if I had to hang it from the ceiling."
According to rival racing trainers, however, the only things that should hang from the Calumet ceiling are a father named Benjamin A. Jones and his son Jimmy. When the two went to Calumet in 1939 there were only 10 trophies. On April 1, 1957, thanks to the Joneses' knack, amounting to genius, there were 327 trophies (101 gold, 164 silver and 62 Julep Cups, symbolic of Kentucky stakes winners at Keeneland or Churchill Downs) in the Pine Room. For nine of the past 16 years the Jones boys have made Calumet America's leading money-winning stable. This year they are working very successfully toward Calumet's 14th million, garnered by more than 1,500 winners.
The elder Jones is now teetering and tired and is called "sir" or "Mister Jones," instead of "Plain Ben," as he had been known for years. He is now the general manager of Calumet and Jimmy is the trainer. But, should anyone ask him how Jimmy's horses are, Ben will tell you, "All Jimmy's got is a pretty good bunch of Shetland ponies. None of 'em's as good as the big ones we used to have, like Citation and Coaltown, Ponder and that bunch. I mean them real big horses we useta have." But, every time Calumet wins another race in 1957 and someone asks Mr. Jones why the Shetland ponies have run so fast, he rubs his 74-year-old hands across the wide brim of his hat and searches for a seat. When he sits down, a big grin chips open his solemn face and his blue eyes twinkle as he says, "I done lied to ya. 'Tain't the first time I lied. I been at this a long, long time." And he's just as happy as anyone could possibly be. "But Jimmy's got to take the rap now. Once I never thought he'd be too much with horses. There was that time when he got elected to be mayor of our town in Parnell, Missouri. That was somethin'. I was nothing more than abeatin' around the leaky-roof tracks, walking horses down the road to the next track, and that Jimmy, why, he was the mayor!"
May 5, 1957
The "mayor" is a short, chunky man who says, "I'm 50 now, gettin' so old that I'm startin' to count backwards. Well, I started with horses out on the fairs at places like Omaha, Kansas City and St. Louis. Training horses is, well, it's sort of just like coaching a football team. You lose a lot of your stars by graduation, and as you look down the line you see the young ones coming along. The only difference between me and a football coach is that I haven't any alumni to worry about. I'm sort of like Popeye the Sailor-man: I yam what I yam what I yam."
But there is little time in the life of Jimmy Jones to go "swimmin' with bowlegged women." "I usually get six hours sleep so that I have 18 hours for my horses," he says. He looked down across his silent army of horses—Bardstown, Fabius, Amoret, Gen. Duke, Iron Liege, Barbizon, Trentonian, Boone Blaze, Crossland and Whig—as they popped their heads out of the Calumet stalls. "Look sort of like flowers, don't they?" said the mayor as he pumped his hands nervously in and out of his pockets and cleared his throat to say, "Just keep 'em fat and fast, that's the secret."
By the end of March the early-blooming flowers of 1957 had won an unprecedented $534,745 for Calumet, and Jones was on his way to his fourth year as a million-dollar trainer. He became the first million winner in 1947 when he doubled the previous high set by his father three years earlier.
When the 1948 Kentucky Derby came around, Jimmy stepped aside and let his father's name go into the Derby records with Citation and Coaltown.
"We get a lot of good horses from breeding," he said recently. "The Calumet people don't like to claim horses. I can't remember the last time we claimed one, to tell the truth. But, about breeding, my father once told me that we breed the best to the best and hope for the best, but there is still nothing certain about the breeding business. Mrs. Sullivan had seven children but she only had one John L."
The magic touch of Jimmy Jones is best exemplified in three of his present horses. Last year he took an unraced colt named Barbizon, brought him to the edge necessary to win five of his six races, to a stirring victory in the World's Richest Race, the Garden State, and to eminence in the 2-year-old division. It took Jones 42 days. This year he took a horse that was left out of the Experimental Ratings, (racing's Social Register) and in 87 days had Gen. Duke the top-heavy favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby. Bardstown is another Jones horse, one that did not race for two years, but in 11 months Jones had the gelding the top handicap horse in the nation.
Jimmy Jones, for all his records, has never won a Derby. He said this winter, "Well, we got a shot at this Derby thing. Right now we have Gen. Duke and Iron Liege, and if Barbizon comes around good I'd start all three. Why, hell, I'm still lookin' around for a fourth."
But horse training is a dead serious business, and the Jones boys, outside of the joking calm which they exude, are dead serious horse trainers. Ben Jones says, "We go over things together and try to figure them out. Lots o' hours go into a good horse. Why, 'fore Jimmy goes to bed at night he stops by to see his horses. Trouble happens in the night." A few minutes later Mr. Jones watched his son saddle Gen. Duke and Iron Liege for the Florida Derby and whispered, "I think Jimmy's the best horseman in all America."