Frank L. Jones Jr., Long-time Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Vice Chair, Dead at 87
Frank L. Jones Jr., a stalwart figure in Kentucky’s horse racing industry, passed away this week at the age of 87 after a prolonged illness.
For decades, Jones played a pivotal role in shaping the state’s horse racing landscape, wearing multiple hats with distinction.
Most recently, the Louisville native was appointed vice chair of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, or KHRC, in 2020.
Many of Kentucky’s brightest and best horse racing and gambling figures have paid tribute to Jones since the news broke, including current KHRC Chairman Jonathan Rabinowitz.
“The passing of Frank Jones is a huge loss for not only his family and friends, but the entire horse racing industry,” he said.
“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 passed just a month before his home state is set to reach the significant milestone of launching its legal sports betting market. Online wagering on horse races has been legal in the Bluegrass State since 2017.
Jones was deeply involved in various aspects of Kentucky horse racing and sports betting.
He served as the owners’ vice president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association (HBPA) for several decades, and was in his second tenure as vice chair of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission when he passed.
Beyond these roles, Jones was a successful horse owner, breeder, and avid horseplayer, dedicating countless hours to the thoroughbred industry as an advocate for horsemen and as a regulator.
Dale Romans, a renowned Kentucky horse trainer, fondly remembered Jones.
“He was a great man,” Romans said. “All the boards he’s been on. All the time he’s volunteered. All the horses he’s owned. All the loyalty he’s shown. All the money he’s bet. He’s supported every aspect of this game.”
Kentucky’s Governor, Andy Beshear, also paid tribute.
“Frank was making a difference. He was an award-winning leader, committed to helping those within this essential Kentucky industry live better lives. I was proud to call him a friend. Frank will be missed,” Beshear said.
Jones also served as vice chair of the KHRC under Beshear’s father, Steven Beshear, who was governor of Kentucky from 2007 to 2015.
A Legacy of Influence and Impact
Jones’ journey in horse racing began with a simple bet.
Fresh out of the Air Force, after graduating from Western University of Kentucky in the 1950s, a friend asked him to place a bet on a horse at Miles Park in Louisville.
That winning bet, which paid $96, marked the beginning of a lifelong passion. From a $1,500 investment in his first horse in 1968, Jones went on to breed and race the $1.5 million-earner Tapitsfly, the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner in 2009.
He also bred and raced the 2016 Preakness Stakes runner-up, Cherry Wine, and owned multiple stakes-placed horses.
However, perhaps Jones’ most significant contributions were his unpaid efforts for the betterment of the industry.
He played a crucial role in negotiating contracts that benefited horsemen and provided invaluable insights as a legislative liaison. His dedication extended to the welfare of backstretch workers, as he served on the board of the Kentucky Racing Health & Welfare Fund, which offers health resources and financial assistance to industry workers fallen on hard times.
Jones’ tenure on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission spanned three administrations, starting with his appointment in 1997 by Gov. Paul Patton. His leadership and vision were instrumental in guiding the commission’s decisions, ensuring the integrity and growth of Kentucky’s horse racing industry.
Remembering a Legend
Jones’ impact on the industry was profound, and his loss is deeply felt by all who knew him. The Kentucky horse racing market is one of the most robust in the U.S.
Even the state’s new sports betting legislation requires operators to partner with a local racetrack, and two more racing and casino venues are being built to accommodate demand.
“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.
Churchill Downs hosts the Kentucky Derby, a triple crown title in U.S horse racing, and it is one of the most prestigious horse racing venues in the world.
Jones is survived by his wife, Nancy Delony Jones. As Kentucky and the wider horse racing community mourns the passing of a legend, they also celebrate the indelible mark he left on the industry.