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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Winner's Circle - Believe You Can, and YOU CAN

By | Sports

On Saturday, a talented group of fillies will face the starter in what may be the deepest field ever to run in the Alabama Stakes. Unfortunately, Believe You Can will not be one of them. Her trainer, Larry Jones, said, "She really touts you in her work." When he failed to see her brilliance in Monday's work, he decided to rest her rather than risk her future. She's proven in the past that there is more to her name then meets the eye. She needs a little break now but you can expect her to come back and continue to penetrate hearts.

Her owner-breeder, Brereton C. Jones and his family are in Saratoga to enjoy racing and to be near their prized filly. I thought it would be interesting to find how they came about selecting her name.

As they say, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. Jones kindly made time for me – and what fun it was. One horse lover talking to another is always entertaining; there’s a lot of humor involved. You have to have that in order to get past all the disappointments.

Jones’ journey into the annals of racing history is as inspirational as his lovely filly. His story throws a monkey wrench into the idea that everyone in racing’s elite division is like the Yankees and simply buys the best talent available.

Born in 1939, Jones was raised on a dairy farm near Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where his father not only ran the day-to-day operations, but also served two terms in the West Virginia Senate. Agriculture in that era spelled lean returns, but even in the best of times, growing up on a dairy farm was hard work. Politics, farming, the Depression era and war years marked his youth. That’s a recipe to produce able hands and a nimble mind if ever there was one!

“My dad was an optimistic guy,” said Jones. “He insisted that I never use the word can’t.” The point was driven home when Jones found the word framed and hanging in his bedroom. Jones added, “My dad’s philosophy was you can do anything so long as you believe you can.”

As Jones’ success suggests, the branding burned deep. I can imagine him as a kid because I too grew up on a dairy farm. He made me laugh when he told me about expecting to be gifted a car on his 16th birthday. He was earnest as he explained, “I needed a car; I was too old to have my parents driving me and my date to the movies.”

You can imagine how Jones felt when instead of a car, his dad gave him a copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s, “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Along with the book he offered his disappointed son this advice, “If you read this book and digest it thoroughly, you’ll be able to buy all the cars you’ll ever want.”

Jones reminisced a little more about his teenage years, “My dad was forever making inspirational signs. I remember getting ready for a football game - we were going up against an undefeated team. Dad asked me how I thought we’d do and I answered, ‘Well, it’s going to be difficult; they are a very strong team.’”   When Jones walked into the locker room, the first thing he saw were signs.

The next spring, Jones graduated valedictorian of his class and was granted a football scholarship to the University of Virginia. Soon after graduating, he became the youngest-ever member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. Two years later, he was chosen as the Republican floor leader. In 1968 he declined to seek re-election to his seat, despite facing no opposition. He had become so disenchanted with his state’s politics that he eventually would switch parties. He thrust his energy into his real estate and home construction company.

East winds must have blown the scent of Bluegrass his way. I don’t know how else a guy of his pedigree and experience would gravitate to race horses. I guess it proves that Jones believed in the power of positive thinking.

“I’d always had a dream of getting involved in the Thoroughbred industry,” Jones said. His peers ridiculed him. They couldn’t imagine how a kid from West Virginia could possibly do anything significant in the Sport of Kings. But as Jones soon learned, getting in is easy – it’s getting out that’s hard.

When word gets out that you want to buy a horse, options sprout quickly. He and a friend ended up giving $900 for a filly. Jones smiled and said, “Her name was Willing, and right off I became attached to her. My friend got her ready to run – trained her around a corn field.”

Willing was just that and chipped away at cheap claiming races at Beulah Park. She eventually won and the hook was set.

Jones established a Thoroughbred nursery in Huntington, West Virginia, and began traveling to the Keeneland Sales to find stock. There, he met Elizabeth “Libby” Lloyd, and they married in 1970. His bride’s family owned Airdrie Farm in Midway, Kentucky. They leased their land out to tobacco and cattle farmers.

The young couple traveled to see her family on the weekends. The farming operations weren’t doing very well and soon Jones found himself imaging a Thoroughbred nursery in Kentucky. “I approached my father-in-law with a lease offer, but he didn’t take to the idea right away. He first wanted to make sure I would properly steward the land.”

In 1972, the Joneses moved to Kentucky. Armed with political experience, a love of horses, a solid work ethic and a lot of BELIEVE YOU CAN – they went to work, and Airdrie Stud was born.

By the late 80s, Jones got back into politics. In 1987, he was elected lieutenant governor and in ’91 became Kentucky’s 54th governor. At Airdrie Stud he put a strong team together and they stayed focused on building for the future.

His governorship ended in 1995 and he turned his attention to his family, Airdrie Stud, and developing the Communications Broadcasting Company.

In 2004, Jones founded Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP), an organization dedicated to educating the public about Kentucky’s horse industry and lobbying the General Assembly for more horse-friendly legislation.

Airdrie Stud presently encompasses nearly 2,500 acres, 500 of which came out of the former Woodburn Stud where Lexington stood during his 16-year run as leading sire in the 19th century. This land is literally the cradle of the American Thoroughbred industry, and as Jones tells it, “There is no better spot of land. There may be some other places that are as good, and I’m not saying mine is the best, but I’m saying there are none better.”

No one has better reasons to be interested in the health of the racing product than Jones. Thank God we have people like him dedicated to preserving this great sport.

The Joneses are thrilled to be back in Saratoga. They pleasantly recall winning the Alabama in 2008 with Proud Spell. Mrs. Jones gave me a little background on that filly’s beginnings. “We withdrew her from the yearling sales at the last possible moment because she was so small and terribly weak in the pasterns. We felt she had no realistic chance of selling.” She also was a member of Proud Citizen’s first crop, and though Jones supported this horse from the beginning, the public’s reception of him started out slowly.

Proud Spell went on to become the 3-year-old champion filly of her year and retired with earnings in excess of $2 million. She’s back home at Airdrie, where she’s producing foals and breeding hope.

Believe You Can went through the Keeneland Yearling Sales in 2010 but failed to meet her $75,000 reserve. The last live bid was $70,000 and Jones took her home. Her earnings to date are over a million.

Another homebred Proud Citizen, Mark Valeski, made the Kentucky Derby field, but his connections wisely withdrew the colt because they felt the timing was off. They later brought him to Belmont Park and won the Peter Pan.

No wonder Jones feels Proud Citizen may be the most underrated stallion in Kentucky. But he’s not complaining. For the lack of selling two of his fillies, he’s $3 million ahead.  

Brereton Jones’ father would be proud to see how his words have shaped lives. He would smile to see his grandson Bret at the Morning Line Cafe with his baby boy in his arms. His hope would surely be for the Joneses to BELIEVE YOU CAN for generations to come.

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