Lynn Jones, who runs the Equus/Standardbred Station insurance company in Lexington with his wife, Kathy, is usually working the backstretch at Churchill Downs the week prior to the first Saturday in May. The popular agent always seems to have a horse or two owned by his clients in the Run for the Roses.
This year, he'll check in with trainer Bob Baffert, as owner Kaleem Shah is one of their mutual clients. Shah owns Dortmund , one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) winner Carpe Diem is also a horse insured by the Joneses.
This year, however, the Joneses should be on the receiving end of some handshakes and well wishes. After 35 years in the business, they'll be heading to Louisville as the breeders of Forum Racing's Birdatthewire, a strong contender for the May 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Birdatthewire, by Summer Bird out of My Limit, by Wagon Limit, was foaled at the Jones' Twin Willows Farm near Paris, Ky.
The Oaks is already packed with "Joneses" as trainer Larry Jones has a pair for the race with I'm a Chatterbox and Lovely Maria. Lovely Maria is owned by Brereton C. Jones, the former Kentucky governor who also is the co-owner of another Oaks filly: Include Betty.
Few, if any, of the Joneses have had a tougher road to Louisville than Lynn Jones. In the last eight years he overcome cancer, a horrific auto accident, and aneurysm... and he gave away the mare that produced Birdatthewire.
"I've had an absolutely ridiculous story over the last eight years," Lynn Jones said, able to laugh at life's misfortunes.
During the two-week Keeneland November sale in 2008, after spending most of his time outdoors in the sale barns, Jones contacted pneumonia. Kathy insisted he get an X-ray, where the doctors saw a spot, which turned out to be cancer.
"I went through the surgery and they took half of my left lung," he said. "I went through chemo, and they tried to kill me there. During one treatment I went into anaphylactic shock and they had to give me mouth-to-mouth to keep me going."
Jones recovered and was back to playing golf and working out.
On Halloween night in 2010, Jones was driving to farm after flying back from a trip to Dubai and was 30 seconds from home. Driving around a blind curve, he came across a car that was backing out on the left-hand side of the road.
"I still thought I could go through, but the right-hand side of the road dropped off sharply," Jones said. "I hit a tree head on and then rolled down into a yard."
The people in the other car peeled out, leaving Jones. An hour passed before someone noticed, and they assumed Jones was dead.
"They told me later they were trying to figure out what to do, smoking cigarettes, when all of a sudden I started raising hell," Jones said.
Jones had to be cut out of the car and was transported to the University of Kentucky hospital by helicopter. After breaking nearly every bone from the waist down and having taken "a couple of good licks to the head," Jones was in the hospital for 40 days, then was in a nursing home for about a year.
"I had my 60th birthday in a nursing home," Jones said. "I wouldn't recommend that."
From there he rehabbed at Cardinal Hill Hospital in Lexington, then stayed at the Griffin Gate Marriott—it's near the insurance office—in one of the hotel's handicapped rooms for three months as he transitioned from wheelchair to walker to walking.
Then two years ago, doctors found an aneurysm. A new procedure required only a three-day hospital stay. Today he walks with a slight limp, but is playing golf and hitting the gym.
Two Birds, One Ralph Kinder
While under this duress, Jones didn't have the time to keep track of business and run the farm. He and Kathy turned to bloodstock agent Ralph Kinder.
The agent and his Alliance Bloodstock started consulting with Lynn and Kathy Jones in 2009. Kinder was riding high in the business of his dealings in 2008 in helping Mark Allen purchase the 2-year-old Mine That Bird who went on to famously win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) at odds of 50-1.
"When I bought Mine That Bird I was actually looking for a filly to run in the Oaks," Kinder said. "I got an e-mail from Stuart Angus at Taylor Made Farm that said we don't have an Oaks filly, but we've got a Kentucky Derby winner.
"He sent us the information and we bought him (in October 2008)," Kinder said.
Kinder laughs a little now, thinking back to six years ago.
"Someone asked me during an interview after the Derby what was I going to do now and I said, 'I'm going back and raise an Oaks filly.'"
He's certainly done that. Birdatthewire has come into her own at 3, transitioning from maiden winner at the end of November 2014 at Churchill to grade II winner in her 3-year-old debut in the seven-furlong Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Beat a neck by the loose-on-the-lead Ekati's Phaeton in the one-mile Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 21, Birdatthewire reclaimed her spot atop the filly division in South Florida for trainer Dale Romans with a 1 1/4-length score March 28 in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II).
"Horses with 'bird' in them have been good to me," Kinder said.
"She was a little small, but well formed," Jones said of a young Birdatthewire. "We didn't have to do anything with her at all, which in this day and age is a little strange."
Kinder remembers that Birdathtewire was "stakes quality," but she wasn't a standout when it came time to sell her as a yearling.
Using Ben Walden's Pauls Mill as agent, she RNA'd for $22,000 as a short yearling at the 2013 Keeneland January sale. With Select Sales she RNA'd later that year at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale. She finally sold to Forum Racing's Tom Camp for $23,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale.
Birdatthewire may be the best the Joneses have bred, but they've brought along horses such as grade II winner Judge T C and grade III winner Marchman in their 35 years in the business.
Lynn Jones bought stakes-placed My Limit, the dam of Birdatthewire, for $10,000 at the 2011 Keeneland January sale. Kinder and agent Rusty Roberts did the bidding. Jones liked the fact she was in foal to Mineshaft .
A long-time association with Walden led him to sending her to Summer Bird.
"My fishing buddy and one of my best friends was standing the stallion," Jones said. "I'd walked by his paddock many times and he never failed to catch my eye. I asked Ben to look at the cross and he liked it; Kathy liked it, too."
My Limit, however, after aborting the following year and her 2014 Into Mischief foal died, Jones had reached his "limit."
Kinder sold My Limit to Erv Woolsey. As Birdonthewire got hotter this winter, so to, did the plans for My Limit. Once slated to go to Goldencents , she's since been bred to three-time leading sire Giant's Causeway .
Regardless of keeping the mare, the Joneses will have a rooting interest in the Oaks.
"The best thing about her is you get to watch and enjoy," Kathy Jones said. "It's more or less watching from the sidelines but we wish them good luck. We've had some good luck with not the best of top-tiered stallions.
"This would be more exciting," she said. "It's been totally unexpected."
Don't say that to an insurance man.