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The Life of Hall of Fame Trainer Ben A. Jones

Hall of Fame horse trainer Ben A. Jones in Keeneland in 1941.
Ben A, Jones at Keeneland, 1941. Keeneland Library. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Early Life:

Ben A. Jones was born on December 31, 1882 in Parnell, Missouri. His father, Horace Jones, had founded Parnell and owned Parnell Bank. Horace was a prosperous cattleman, so his son was brought up on the back of a horse. He had high hopes that his son would one day help him run the bank. Jones, however, had a bigger love for horses than he did for banking.

Jones got his start in horse racing in the streets of Parnell, competing with others for a $5 purse. He attended Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri for high school. In the fall of 1901, he trekked 500 miles on his bicycle to what is now Colorado State University. There he played Football for two years, but couldn’t keep himself entertained long.

In 1903, Ben A. Jones biked all the way back to Parnell and began working for his father at the bank. Still, he couldn’t stop craving the thrill of horse racing. He went against his father's wishes to race horses in the Pumpkin Circuit at county fairs. The purses were small, but it gave Ben what he had been longing for.

Mexico & the West:

When horse racing nearly died out in the United States, Ben A. Jones moved across country lines to train racehorses in Mexico. During his time in Mexico, Ben A. Jones had to deal with the raids of Pancho Villa coming to steal horses. He is said to have wrapped a potato sack filled with mud under a bandage on a horse named Lemon Joe to make him look lame so Pancho Villa’s men wouldn’t take him.

Jones was successful and eventually invited his father out to show him his accomplishments. His father finally saw that this is what is son was meant to do - Horace bought his son a stallion and some mares and Ben A. Jones started up his very own breeding farm.

Woolford Farm:

His horses raced on the small circuits of Mexico and the West and by the 1920s, Ben A. Jones was recognized as one of the best trainers in the industry. In 1931, Jones was offered a job as the trainer for Woolford Farm in Prairie Village, Kansas. Jones accepted the position, giving up his breeding operation to train for the farm for the next eight years. He brought his son Jimmy Jones with him.

During his time with Woolford Farm, Jones trained three Champion racehorses. One of those was Lawrin, winner of the 1938 Kentucky Derby. The victory caught the attention of Warren Wright Sr., who was looking for a new head trainer for Calumet Farm. In 1939, Ben A. Jones accepted the job.

Calumet Farm & The Triple Crown:

The first horses from Calumet Farm arrived in Jones’ barn in 1940. Among them was the two-year old Whirlaway. Whirlaway’s antics were responsible for many of Jones’ headaches, but Jones believed in the horse. He worked on the horse’s problem of bearing out during the stretch, even cutting one of his blinkers one day before the Kentucky Derby. The training worked - Whirlaway won the 1941 Kentucky Derby and dominated that year’s Preakness and Belmont Stakes, giving Ben A. Jones and Calumet Farm their first Triple Crown victory.

“You may remember before the Derby that I told you at times I thought Whirlaway was half-witted . Either he was or I was wrong about Whirlaway. He just happens to have a mind and a personality of his own,” Ben Jones told the Aspen Daily Times in 1941.

“I don't believe I’ve ever seen anyone use as much patience as Ben Jones has given this horse,” said John Partridge, fellow owner and trainer and a friend of Ben Jones.

[Video: Whirlaway, Ben A. Jones' first Triple Crown winner]

When Whirlaway retired, Ben A. Jones said that he would retire too - but he couldn’t follow through. If he had retired, he would miss out on training Pensive, Armed, and Twilight Tear. He trained Pensive to a Kentucky Derby victory in 1944. His filly Twilight Tear was given Horse of the Year honors that same year. He then trained Armed to Horse of the Year status in 1947.

That year, Ben A. Jones was appointed as Calumet Farm’s general manager. He still trained horses along side his son Jimmy Jones. In 1948 the father-son duo won the Triple Crown with Citation. In 1949, Ben trained Ponder to a Kentucky Derby victory. He did it again with Hill Gail in 1952.


After Hill Gail’s Kentucky Derby victory, Ben A. Jones retired. He had lived a full life in the horse racing industry and remains the only person to train six Kentucky Derby winners. Four of his horses had been named Horse of the Year, thirteen were Champions, and he was the leading money-earning trainer four times.

Ben A. Jones was inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1958. He passed away in 1961 at the age of 78. Though he has been gone for many years, the name Ben A. Jones still leaves the mouths of horse racing historians and fans alike. His contributions to the sport’s history are far too important to ever be forgotten.

Hall of Fame trainer Ben A. Jones at Keeneland in 1944. Jones trained Whirlaway and Citation.
Ben A. Jones in 1944. Keeneland Library Meadors Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.


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Arguably the most dominant trainer of the 1940s, and his Derby record will probably never be broken.

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