Cowboy Up
Photo:
Dan Liebman
Executive Editor
About 10 years ago, Robert A. "Cowboy" Jones quit keeping track. But it's safe to say the number is more than 50,000. While others spend billions each year on diet books, diet pills, diet fads, and diet programs, Cowboy Jones lost 50,000 pounds in a sweatbox. Didn't cost him a penny.

However, he did it over the course of 45 years in the saddle.

This year, Cowboy Jones will turn 62, having been born in Herrin, Ill., on Dec. 17, 1942. He rode his first winner June 12, 1959, at Park Jefferson in South Dakota, and earned his most recent victory July 21 at Ellis Park, which looks like it is in Indiana but is in fact part of Kentucky soil.

His triumph July 21 made him the oldest jockey to ever win a race at Ellis, where he has ridden winners in six different decades. Ask anyone at Ellis, and they will tell you Cowboy Jones is a "living legend."

"Yeah, well, the best part of that is the 'living' part," Jones joked one recent morning on the Ellis backside.

Any jockey who rides a winner at age 61, gallops a dozen horses every morning, has his own bobblehead doll--yes, wearing a cowboy hat--and sells homegrown tomatoes deserves the title of living legend.

For the record, Robert Armitt Jones has left the starting gate 15,169 times through Aug. 3, 2004, with 1,696 wins, 1,639 seconds, 1,640 thirds, and earnings of $4,767,537. Along the way, he won the riding title at Ellis in 1962, 1966, and 1972.

Five times, he won more than 100 races in a year, his highest total being 158 in 1969. By money, Jones' top year was 1973, when his runners earned $396,327.

These days, Jones gets on horses in the mornings primarily for trainers Bernie Flint, Ron Moquett, and Larry Jones. It was Larry Jones--they are not related but affectionately call each other "cousin"--who put him on a 101Ž2-length winner, Jarrett, on July 21.

In the afternoons, Jones is the "house" rider at Ellis, where he is available as the pick-up jock if needed. He jokes that they "pay me to sleep all afternoon."

The fire still burns inside Cowboy Jones. But he readily admits most owners and trainers "would rather ride the young jockeys."

For the past 20 years, Jones has also had a sideline: he is a tomato farmer. With more than 250 plants to harvest, he sells tomatoes regularly on the backside and also makes tomato juice, tomato sauce, and tomato relish. Backside workers at Ellis look foward to seeing his Lincoln with the bags of tomatoes on the hood.

The work in his tomato patch probably explains why he doesn't have to reduce as much anymore, but Jones said since he started riding, "I've had to reduce every day of my life."

For 27 years, Jones lost five pounds every day, 365 days a year. He would arrive in the jocks' room weighing 122 pounds, and after one hour in the sweatbox, would be ready to ride at 117 pounds. He could eat the fried foods he loves--his favorite of course being fried green tomatoes--and drink a beer or two if he pleased.

Asked about the fact the California Horse Racing Board, at the request of the Jockeys' Guild, is considering adding three pounds to the jockey scale of weights, Jones said he doesn't support his fellow riders who think the change is necessary.

"Raising it wouldn't matter a bit," Jones said. "In a few weeks, they would be reducing again. They'll gain three pounds and still have to reduce. Unless you're a natural lightweight, like Pat Day, you have to reduce."

Cowboy Jones knows a thing or two about reducing, and a thing or two about being a jockey. On this subject, the living legend is worth listening to.

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