All Photos by Holly M. Smith
(Sweeping Paddy, owned by Frank Jones)
(Cherry Wine, owned by Frank Jones)
(Rare Form, owned by Frank Jones)
Frank Jones was not a very big man.
Not in physical stature, by any measure.
When I looked at him, I thought back to my high school days and those kids who could and would make weight to wrestle in those small weight classes. He was slight. He could turn sideways and get lost in a crowd. He was often dwarfed, especially when he would do his best to keep strides with his best friend and would-be son in trainer Dale Romans. In short, pun intended, there was no way that Frank Jones would stand out.
But isn’t it grand that we don’t measure the true worth of a man by a ruler or a tape. Isn’t it wonderful that we don’t measure the depth of a human by a metric.
Isn’t it perfect that we truly value those people that stand out on their values, instead, and give both thanks and honor to those people that stand up when there is a fight to be won or an argument to be made?
By that standard, Frank Jones truly was a giant.
I first met Frank Jones way back in 1987. He was working, as always, on some issues as an elected official with the Kentucky HBPA, and I was a mere 30-something-old kid who somehow got the job as an “Executive” with a rather prominent Kentucky horse organization.
As soon as I got the “new job,” and for about a month, I received a crash course indoctrination. The brainwash was pretty simple. I was told that anything that the KY HBPA wanted to do was bad. Under all circumstances, I was to always oppose anything it and its representatives wanted to do. Always. Every time. No questions asked.
So, as I strolled into my first meeting with representatives of the KY HBPA, I was fully prepared to meet the horse person’s version of Snidely Whiplash — Frank Jones. (If you don’t remember the arch enemy of Dudley Do-Right, then you can google him up.) I already knew I was not to like this man or anything he had to say or offer. I already knew I had to fend off any insane recommendation. I already knew how this meeting was going to go. Game time.
Before I even knew the game had begun, it was game over. I got blown out. I got blown away.
“Snidely” had become “Do Right.”
“Snidely” was “Right.”
And, as Johnny Cash sang in his wonderful “Boy Named Sue,” I, too, came away from my encounter with a “different point of view.”
It didn’t take long for the respect and the relationships to grow. I would have regular phone calls with Pete Salmen and Rick Hiles. I would meet and chat with long-time Executive Director Marty Maline. And, I would often meet with Frank Jones. Sometimes at his pool supply business, which sat right on the side of the Waterson Expressway in Louisville, and right on the way to Churchill Downs. How convenient.
We didn’t always agree. We didn’t always have the same approach or thought. Sometimes, we argued vehemently on opposite sides of an issue, and sometimes the words were stern, if not harsh. It was not for the faint-of-heart, but neither of us fainted. It was not a match made in heaven. It was a match made out of necessity, to be truthful. But it was a match made.
We figured it out. It was better to work together to make things better for all than to work apart just for faint praise.
And, we worked. And, it worked.
We did always work to try to make the horse industry better. Always. Every day. Every issue.
We did always try our best to make the purses better; the backside better; the welfare better; the barns better; the sport better; the industry better.
I always did learn. I learned that Frank Jones was clever. I learned that Frank Jones was tough. I learned that Frank Jones could hold his cards close, and his “enemies” closer. I learned that Frank Jones could win more than a horse race or ten. He could win an argument, debate, and issue. Way more than his share.
It was a graduate degree in negotiations. It was a life experience in life experiences.
And, before I knew it, I had developed a friendship. Imagine that.
I walked away both impressed and inspired by Frank Jones’ success rate.
Impressed and inspired by his professionalism.
Impressed and inspired by his simple, yet, in-depth knowledge.
Impressed and inspired by his practicality, common-sense, and straight-to-the-matter recommendations, fixes, and vision.
Most of all, impressed and inspired by the results.
Kentucky Thoroughbred racing is the best in the United States. By a furlong or two. The tracks are successful. All of them. The racing is amazing. The backsides are improving. And, the purses are the best in the land.
And, much of that credit belongs to Frank Jones.
When this industry desperately needed simulcasting, Frank Jones was there to help support.
When this industry needed Historic Horse Racing, Frank Jones was there to help lead.
When this industry needed an ambassador to help improve the living conditions of the backside worker, or the health of a migrant’s family, Frank Jones was always there to help support.
When this industry desperately needed leadership, Frank Jones was always willing to help communicate.
When this industry asked, most of the time, Frank Jones had already answered.
He never missed a dance. He rarely missed his target.
This industry is better because of both of those things.
And, no doubt, this world is better, too.
Happy trails, Frank Jones. Happy trails.