Renovation Break - by Dan Liebman

At 10 p.m., an exhausted Larry Jones finally fell asleep. Just two and a half hours later, he was back up, making training charts for that day’s sets before loading his trailer to drive from his barn at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland to Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York.

Jones was tired, and not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well. This was not the lifestyle he wanted. So a few weeks after turning 52 on Sept. 2, he told others what he and his wife and assistant, Cindy, had decided weeks earlier. By the end of 2009, they are retiring.

Just a few years ago, Larry and Cindy Jones had a small barn of horses at tiny Ellis Park in Western Kentucky, not far from where Larry grew up farming in Hopkinsville, Ky. Cindy is a Tennessee native who also enjoys the quiet lifestyle of living in the country, far away from big city lights.

But Larry Jones is a skilled horseman whose talents were evident. When a trainer wins 20% or more of his races with lesser stock, more than just handicappers take note. When a trainer purchases yearlings for less than $20,000 and turns them into stakes horses, the word spreads.

But when a trainer goes from 30 or 40 horses to 120, something has to give.

And when that same trainer has to suffer through what Larry Jones has endured since the tragic breakdown of Eight Belles, it takes its toll.

At dinner Sept. 26, Jones said, “I don’t know what it feels like to have a nervous breakdown, but I have to think it is like this. I drive up to the barn and start shaking before I get out of the truck. I turn on TVG and I don’t even have a horse in the race and I can’t bare to watch. I used to love every aspect of this business. I don’t mind mucking a stall or driving a horse somewhere. But if I can’t get on the horse, like a 2-year-old I need to be on and know, I don’t enjoy it.”

It could be asked why Jones did not just scale back, telling some of his owners to move their horses to other trainers so he could again work with a manageable number. To him, that would not be fair. Whom does he turn his back on, the guys who have been with him 20 years, or the new owners that have helped him elevate his stock?

Perhaps Jones just should quit galloping horses, or discontinue trailering on his own. That would be like asking him to quit wearing a cowboy hat.

Jones doesn’t want to change, nor should he have to. He wants his current lifestyle to change.

Jones took out his trainer’s license in 1982, and that first year failed to find the winner’s circle in 20 starts. He had earnings of $3,480. The next year, he won two races from 37 starts, and his earnings jumped to $7,665. He made ends meet by galloping horses for other trainers.

Though his first stakes winner, Capt. Bold, came in 1986, Jones’ earnings did not reach six figures until 1989. It was another 15 years before they advanced to seven figures. While he had earnings of $5.9 million in 2007 and has $5.8 million so far this year, the first 17 years combined his horses won $1,835,601, an average of $107,977. The rub is, he made a lot less money but was a lot happier.

He won his first grade I in 2004 with Island Sand, now followed by Wildcat Bettie B, Hard Spun, and Proud Spell. If not for a perfect trip by Street Sense, and a buzzsaw named Big Brown, he would have won two Kentucky Derbys (gr. I).

Jones admits he will probably come back, though with far fewer horses. The fact he can walk away shows how much he loves the horse.

Hopefully, that same love will draw him back, because it is hard to believe we have seen the best yet, as a person and horseman, of Larry Jones.

22 Comments

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Karen in Indiana

I have a lot of respect for Larry Jones. It is obvious he loves his horses. I can't imagine what it must have been like to have people from those who are well-meaning, but not knowledgeable all the way to the kooks looking for an excuse to get upset blaming him for Eight Belles. That was an accident and they happen. But how anyone could deliberately hurt one of his horses to 'make a statement'??? All I can say is God bless him and his wife and may he find peace in whatever he chooses to do.

30 Sep 2008 2:03 PM
STEVE STONE

Hi Dan...Your question in your op-ed piece as to why Larry Jones didn't scale back his expanding operation actually positions himself into an catch-22 scenario..as he really wants it both ways...its quite simple..And there is nothing wrong w/that rationale....But an price has to be paid for it...However he is in the throes of burn-out..exhaustion..fatique and frustration as most people are w/their positions..He has also been the recipient of adverse and  unflattering publicity regarding the Eights Belles tradgedy..as all of this has further exacerbated his frustrations to leave behind an successful training career...He is undoubtedly an hands-on..micro-mangaing type of trainer..and in that business..one has to be as every aspect of minutiae is vital....Yet his profound passion for the sport he deavours so much cannot be just discarded..Perhaps what he should have done was consult w/the likes of D.Wayne Lukas who undoubtedly pioneered national training operations...Todd Pletcher..Steve Assmussen..Bobby Frankel and so forth and elicited from them how they are operating their far-flung stables and maintaining peace in the valley w/their myriad of tempermental owners...And successful also...Its an balancing act...I..like everyone am very sanguine that Larry will make an return @ somepoint in the forseeable future..probably on an lesser scale after he "has turned himself out for awhile"..just to regain his sense of balance..He is unquestionably the consummate horseman as his contributions to the sport have been immeasurable and have left an indelible mark everywhere he has raced...His white cowboy hat will be sorely missed..hopefully for an brief respite..One day we will be attending Hall of Fame ceremonies @ Saratoga as he is so proudly inducted...Thanks always Dan for your kind window...Regards..Steve Stone..East Hanover..New Jersey..

30 Sep 2008 2:54 PM
Atthebarn2

Everyone in the industry is sad that Larry felt the need to do this but everybody has to do what's right for them. Steve, as far as consulting with other trainers. I know Larry has discussed many things with Wayne in the past. Bobby doesn't train in the same circuit and Todd and Steve haven't been at it on their own for even as many years as Larry.  I'm sure Wayne told him you have to be thick skinned and not listen to the negatives, we all know that will eat you alive. Some aren't cut out to do that though. As far as micro-managing, that's just it. You have to be able to micro-manage but not be hands on, do it all yourself when you have that many horses, you just run the business and keep in contact with your various barns, give instructions and make sure everybody knows what's expected of them at all times and know exactly who is in charge. It is a catch 22 and a be careful what you wish for kind of a deal but my personal opinion is Larry wouldn't have had a meltdown if the Eight Belles deal hadn't happened. The level of maliciousness and vicious hatred that followed would affect even the strongest. Yes there's been others who have been vilified but not in the exact same way. Then when the horses started getting turned loose, his contention of a tampering in the positive, well that's a little scary and who knows where they'll stop. Kind of like a Dick Francis book. Any way, we'll miss Larry, even if he was beating us regularly.

30 Sep 2008 3:56 PM
normajean81258

This is a trainer that will truly be missed. The sport needs more like him, not less. I can't imagine what the past few months alone have been like for him. Since Eight Belles, the obvious sabotage going on and the shear exhaustion, physical & mental have surely taken a toll. Here's hoping he does, as one above suggests, talk to other trainers while he takes what I hope is just a hiatus. I hope he comes back as he is such a caring trainer.  

30 Sep 2008 4:41 PM
Wanda

Best of luck to Mr.Jones with whatever he does in the future. But I bet you he'll get up one morning and see something in a 2 year old....

30 Sep 2008 5:55 PM
lobieb

Larry will be missed when he leaves us in 2009 but hopefully that will last just a short time and he will realize that he needs to be with the horses.  I have so much respect for Larry as he has respect for all his horses.  The world should have more Larry Jones that are as caring to his charges.  Whatever his final decision is I wish him all the happiness in the world, maybe just a brief vacation will surfice and we will see him again real soon but with a smaller stable to make him happy.  Thanks so much Larry for all you have given to the game of racing and the finest care to  all your charges, just don't let the hate mongers get to you anymore as you don't deserve it.  Hope to see your name back in the spot light after a nice rest.

30 Sep 2008 6:41 PM
Whatamidoing

Larry is a truly good guy. Training is so competitive now and it's a tough business. It's exhausting at the best of times, the long hours, the responsibility the no days off deal all make it tough and you have to love it to hang in. Add to that the constant criticism that we ALL hear, elevate it to what was happening to Larry and actually it's not surprising that he is leaving. Actually more are leaving it every day. Most of us have families, some are older guys and then we have responsibilities to our extended families, the employees who work for us. It's getting tougher to meet that and add all the rest into it and we start to melt down one by one. Most of us have goals of having the great horses, but added responsibility comes with that, even though it does make some aspects easier. I think myself that Larry will be like a lot of the guys who leave, he'll be back when he can come back on his own terms, more or less.

30 Sep 2008 7:31 PM
Luvthehorses

I have so much respect for Larry Jones and his wife.  Hopefully they will have a very deserved rest and will be back real soon.

30 Sep 2008 8:56 PM
sceptre

I've had no personal experience with Larry Jones, but have been actively involved in thoroughbred racing for many decades. In all candor, I am at loss to understand why The Blood Horse deems this trainer so singularly deserving of all the publicity heaped upon him. Yes, he has somewhat ascended up the ranks and has trained a few noteworthy horses of late. His main "claim to fame"  and/or noteworthiness seems, however, more associated with the Eight Belles tragedy. This, at best, should cause a dubious notoriety. As far as I'm concerned his potential contributing culpability in that tragedy remains an open question-notwithstanding his potentially self-serving "speeches" to the contrary. Here is one who cried mistreatment by the press and public, but instead was essentially lavished with praise and sympathy-in a real sense procuring the symbol and felt emotions from his tragic trainee, Eight Belles... So Mr. Jones plans to retire at the end of 2009. Why is this such news in 2008? I'm sure had many more noteworthy such as Allen Jerkens, Bob Baffert, Bill Mott, D. Wayne, etc. made such (now, for late 2009) an announcement, much less would be written. So Larry Jones pulls on your heart strings, does he? Better that you further ponder about and regret the fate that befell Eight Belles.    

01 Oct 2008 3:42 PM
MMoneta

God Bless Jones and his family and he finds the peace and joy he needs in his life.

01 Oct 2008 7:20 PM
KM

BEST OF LUCK to larry and cindy

02 Oct 2008 2:36 PM
Rggc

I too wish Larry Jones and his wife good luck. I have never met the man but from what I have read and seen in the media he seems to love his horses.  I hope some time off will heal his mind and heart enough to get him back to the life he loves. Good trainers are hard to find and if he has to downsize his stable to get where he needs to be mentally, he should do it, I am sure his owners will understand. If they don't, they aren't worth worrying about. Take care of yourself and your family first Larry, and all else will follow.

02 Oct 2008 4:47 PM
Windblown

He's coming back, but will only managed small number of horses in which he can look up all the time.

I like his style of training and his dedication to his job.

02 Oct 2008 5:51 PM
Cheryl

Larry Jones so eloquently bore the weight of the entire industry on his shoulders after the Eight Belles accident.  Where was "the industry" supporting him???  He is one of the greatest trainers (and we love him and Cindy here in New Jersey).  It is so unfortunate that it has come to this after he has done wonders with Hard Spun, Eight Belles and Proud Spell.  The industry needs a person like him who puts "horse first" and that's Commissioner material, for the so needed position to govern the NTRA.

Larry is one of the best (the best trainers come out of Del. Park, Tim Ritchey included) and I hope Larry takes a rest, regroups, then realizes this is where he truly belongs.  We wish him the best.

02 Oct 2008 5:54 PM
needler in Virginia

sceptre, quite possibly BH deemed Mr Jones deserving of the story (and this blog) because he is one of the trainers who deserve the attention. He has performed with integrity, class and dignity, while others have not. His determination to "do things right" is exemplary when viewed against the actions of some other trainers who are obviously determined to do things wrong.

Perhaps your blog entry had other motives??

But that perception could just be mine............

03 Oct 2008 12:11 PM
Barbaro lover in Louisiana

Kudos to you needler in Virginia. Well said.

03 Oct 2008 1:58 PM
Dennis B

Come back to Iowa, Larry!  We'd love to have you back!

03 Oct 2008 5:34 PM
gammyp6

Larry with the obvious and much needed support of his wife Cindy is making a very brave decision. He

will now have a chance at keeping his sanity in tact as well as all of the other important areas mentioned in the article. Of course he will be back. He will be back as a healthy and whole human being who won't be on the verge of imploding and ending up a shell of his former self. I know far too many of those "shells". It is very sad.

04 Oct 2008 1:23 AM
TWIN SPIRIES DERBY HAT MAN

LARRY JONES, A man has to do what a man has to do!

Many of us "FELL ALONG WITH EIGHT BELLES" that day.  YOU are a Great Horseman, so please don't stay away too long.  I DO HOPE YOU & YOUR FAMILY HAVE MUCH ENJOYMENT IN THE FUTURE.

06 Oct 2008 7:23 PM
Disgruntledracingfan

Does one really blame this man for taking a break from a sport from which he has gained and LOST so much?  No I'm not just talking about the ill-fated Eight Belles either.  Since Kentucky Derby 2008, he has been maliciously attacked by savage members of the media, bleeding heart animal rights activists, who in most cases their opinions have no basis in reality, and worst of all attacks on the animals he loves, by misguided psychopaths who are just out to destroy him.  I think the horse racing industry is losing a true pioneer and a man who deserves a medal for his courage in the face of fire..... Lukas, Baffert, Mott, and many others have had horses break down on national television......GO BOTHER THEM FOR PETE'S SAKE and leave this respectable, quiet man alone to run his business in peace! YES I'M ANGRY....Too bad if it bothers people

07 Oct 2008 12:52 AM
Johnny

I was very saddened when I first learned that Larry Jones was retiring at the end of 2009. I've always liked listening to him, and appreciated his warm personality, genuine likeableness, and of course his superb expertise as a horseman. I'm just sorry for the loss, pain, and adversity Larry has gone through this year.

I've loved watching Hard Spun, Proud Spell, and of course the late and wonderful Eight Belles, God bless her.

And may God bless Larry and Cindy to.

08 Oct 2008 1:10 AM
Atthebarn2

Disgruntled,

Why would you wish anybody to get attacked like Larry did? I don't give a hoot who they are. I'll guarantee you that anybody who's had a horse break down has gotten harassed and hated, just not the level Larry did because their horses didn't break down in the Derby and get put down in front of 150,000+ live fans and millions on TV, the most viewed horse race there is.

They may not have gotten the same level of hate and mischief because the Animal Rights people weren't as powerful as they seem to be now. But they got crucified by the press.

Some of those guys horses broke down in TC races, most weren't fatal. Even the Jackson's faced hate and had their motives questioned when Barbaro broke down. Do you think it wouldn't have been magnified 100 times if they'd put him down on the track?  Yes Larry's a nice guy, Bill Mott's a nice guy. Baffert is full of bluster but is a nice guy. Wayne was perceived as arrogant, but that arrogance is what allowed him to keep things going when faced with adversity and to run a huge stable, (something Larry admits he can't snd doesn't want to do) and stay sane. I've always found Wayne to be very helpful. John Shirreffs said the same, Aidan O'Brien and even Larry himself. Larry's said over and over how much he admires Wayne and that he sought his advice on running Eight Belles. Guess he was told he should have run her against the boys before the Derby. Larry publically said Lukas is his idol and was thrilled because they share a birthday.

I really think Larry got overwhelmed with the success and the feeling of losing the handle on things. The loss of the filly was just the straw that broke the camels back. Also, believe it or not Larry has a little gamesmanship in him and isn't afraid to call somebody out or express an unpopular opinion (like the one about him pulling against Big Brown for the TC because of the bluster of Rick Dutrow.) He isn't as quiet and unassuming as you might think, you can't be in this cutthroat business. But he is a good guy, nonetheless, just not perfect, none of us are.

08 Oct 2008 6:30 PM

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