AMERICAN racing has lost one of its most influential characters with the death of Warner L. Jones. He helped the sport make huge strides as a political administrator, but he will be best remembered for selling some of the most famous horses of the last 40 years.
His most lucrative achievement was as the co-breeder, with Will Farish and William Kilroy, of Seattle Dancer, a son of the outstanding Northern Dancer, who was sold for a world record dollars 13.1m at the 1985 Keeneland sales. The horse went into training with Vincent O'Brien and ran in the colours of Stavros Niarchos. It proved impossible for Seattle Dancer to justify such a fee, though he did win two Irish Group races. While Seattle Dancer proved a relative dud, Jones produced some outstanding horses at his Hermitage Farm in Kentucky. They included the 1953 Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star, the only horse to beat the brilliant Native Dancer, the 1967 Kentucky Oaks winner Nancy Jr and the 1988 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner It is True. Other big races won by Hermitage- breds included the Santa Anita and Hollywood Derbys. Three times in the free-spending 1980s Hermitage Farm was the leading consigner at the Keeneland July sales.
Jones's involvement in the sales ring ended largely in 1987 when he dispersed most of the horses he owned, raising dollars 21,390,000 for 72 mares, among them My Charmer, the dam of Lomond and Seattle Slew, and dollars 11,286,500 for 58 foals. His involvement in racing was far from limited to the sales ring. Jones's great-great-great-uncle was the founder of the Kentucky Derby and his family had long had close links with the Churchill Downs racecourses, where the big race is run. Jones, who had bought Hermitage aged 19 in 1935, joined the board of Churchill Downs aged 25 and later acted as chairman.
Churchill Downs hosts this year's Breeders' Cup championship, an event which puts together the best racehorses of all generations from the United States and Europe. Jones played a significant role in developing the series and served as vice-president of Breeders' Cup Ltd, which organises the event.
As well as being a director of the Keeneland sales company, Jones was steward of the US Jockey Club and played a key role in the creation of the American Horse Council, an organisation to ensure that horseracing and breeding could lobby effectively in Washington.
Jones was an outstanding horseman, winning show-jumping awards as a child and playing polo while at university.
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