He’s a big man from Texas who favors a Stetson hat and cowboy boots, wears a wide grin on his weather-beaten face, and still smokes cigarettes in “retirement” in his mid-70s (Marlboro Lights, instead of the red pack, is his nod to the health police, I’m sure). On first impression, Johnny T.L. Jones Jr. has the look and demeanor of a man who’d be more comfortable with quarter horses at a rodeo in Juarez than eating l’escargot on the Bois de Boulogne, which may be the case, but that never stopped him from fraternizing with some of the great European horsemen of the last century, including Vincent O’Brien and owners Robert Sangster and John Magnier; and the duo of owner Roland de Chambure and trainer Alec Head, who raced and bred some great horses as Ecurie Aland and Societe Aland. And from his European travels, Johnny brought back to Lexington several horses who became outstanding sires, most notably Nureyev, Alleged, and Miswaki, which made his farm, Walmac—now owned by his son John T.L. Jones III and Bobby Trussell—a famous destination in its heyday.
I spotted Johnny Jones at Keeneland last week seated inconspicuously in the shade at the Four Star Sales consignment at Barn 18 opposite the pagoda; he’d formed the sales company with Kerry Cauthen, David Greathouse of Glencrest, and Dan Kenny, and he was enjoying the atmosphere when I walked over. And he looked every bit the legendary horseman I remembered from years past, just a “few” years older than when I’d last seen him. He was sporting a baseball cap instead of a cowboy hat. “How do I look?” he asked with a laugh. “And how you doin’?” He was wearing the same glasses he’d always worn and had a pack of smokes in his chest pocket.
This was my first trip to Lexington in several years–7 or 8 at least–and it hadn’t seemed quite right, until I spotted the man from Texas who’d been so ubiquitous in Stetson and boots for so many years on these same grounds.