Frank L. Jones, Jr., a prominent owner, breeder, and servant to the horse industry through decades of work on the boards of several Thoroughbred organizations, passed away Thursday, Aug. 10 after a long illness. The Louisville businessman was 87.
In addition to other roles, Jones spent more than 30 years as the owners' vice president of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), where he was instrumental in negotiating contracts for owners and trainers with racetracks. He was also chair of the Kentucky HBPA's finance committee and a legislative liaison. He was vice chair of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC), first appointed in 1997 by Gov. Paul Patton, reappointed in 2008 by Gov. Steve Beshear, and appointed again in 2020 by Gov. Andy Beshear. Jones was also a long-time board member and secretary of the Kentucky Racing Health & Welfare Fund, which provides health resources and financial assistance to the Commonwealth's backstretch workers.
Jones was also president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners in 1998-1999 and was a member of the American Horse Council, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. Last October he was selected as a member of the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Authority (HISA)'s Horsemen's Advisory Group. He was honored with the Warner Jones Award, which recognizes individuals for outstanding contributions to Kentucky racing, in 2019.
“The Kentucky horse racing and breeding industry wouldn't be in the strong position it is in today without the passion, commitment, and leadership of Frank Jones, Jr.,” said Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen. “From his meaningful contribution to the Kentucky HBPA to his impact on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and as past president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners, our sport and community lost a dear friend and tremendous advocate, and we at Churchill Downs lost a valued partner. He will be greatly missed, and our thoughts are with his family and countless number of friends and colleagues during this difficult time.”
Born in Louisville in 1937, Jones attended Western Kentucky University and spent time in the U.S. Air Force. A variety of savvy business dealings, including in swimming pool equipment and supplies, led to him being nominated as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 1989 and 1990. However, it was a chance encounter with trainer Jerry Romans, Sr. that led to his decades in the horse industry. He bought his first horse in 1968 for $1,500 and exclusively used Romans and his son, Dale, as trainers. He was leading owner at the spring meets at Churchill Downs in 1989, 1990, 1992, and 1995. The star of his stable was Tapitsfly (Tapit), who won the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, as well as the GI Just a Game S. and GI First Lady S. Jones sold the filly in 2012 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale for $1.85 million to Katsumi Yoshida.
A number of industry leaders released statements as news spread of Jones's passing Thursday. Among them were KHRC Chairman Jonathan Rabinowitz, who said, “The passing of Frank Jones is a huge loss for not only his family and friends, but the entire horse racing industry. As a valuable member and vice-chairman of the KHRC Commission and secretary of the Kentucky Racing Health and Welfare Fund, he used his voice to elevate other horsemen, serving and providing guidance to backstretch workers who cannot afford medical assistance on their own. We have all lost a great friend who will be dearly missed.”
Jones is survived by his wife, Nancy Delony Jones, to whom he has been married four years. His first wife, Gloria Jones, passed away after 58 years of marriage. Arrangements are pending.