James E. "JJ" Jones, a respected blacksmith who kept some of the world's best Thoroughbreds walking and running properly for 38 years, died Tuesday doing the work he loved. He collapsed, apparently from a heart attack, while shoeing a horse on a Lexington-area farm. He was 56.
Mr. Jones started working as a farrier at age 18, learning the craft from noted farrier John Madison. Over the years, Mr. Jones worked at many well-known horse farms, including Spendthrift, Darby Dan and Hamburg Place.
As a young man, he sometimes took his horseshoe box filled with nails, hammers and all the tools of his trade to Keeneland during racing meets to drum up business. He worked during the Keeneland Sales for many years.
Mr. Jones' interest in horses extended beyond their hooves. Also a successful breeder, he owned the broodmare Thorough Fair, who was the dam of Why Why Why and Spellbinder.
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Why Why Why, whom Mr. Jones sold as a yearling, was one of the top 2-year-olds of his generation. The horse sired Now Now Now, who won the inaugural running of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Spellbinder earned just under $500,000 in his career and won the San Antonio Handicap Grade 2, among other races.
Mr. Jones was just starting to really enjoy the fruits of his work when he died, friends said. He and his wife, Linda, owned a farm next to Spendthrift, which they planned to name Thorough Fair.
When former President George W. Bush visited Spendthrift last week, the farm's owner, B. Wayne Hughes, told Bush about a highly regarded neighbor, said Ned Toffey, the farm's general manager.
"The president said, 'Geez, I'd like to meet him,'" Toffey said. So, Mr. Jones, his wife and daughter, Lisa, went to Spendthrift and spent about an hour with the former president.
"President Bush kept asking him about shoeing horses and how do you handle that type of an animal," said Linda Jones.
As a farrier, there was never a problem that Mr. Jones couldn't solve, said horseman John Willard, who worked with him for many years.
"He was relentless until he got the problem solved ... The greatest technique is just having a good eye for what you're doing, and James was one of the best."
A Fayette County native, Mr. Jones grew up in the Jimtown community. He was the son of the late Rev. Joseph L. Jones, a Baptist minister, and Hattie Farris Jones.
He was a graduate of Bryan Station High School and a member of Jimtown Baptist Church.
In addition to his wife, Linda Denise Gay Jones, and daughter, Lisa Denise Jones, he is survived by two sons, Jonathan Allen Beatty and Jerard James Jones; six brothers; three sisters; and three grandchildren.
Services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Jimtown Baptist Church. Visitation will be after 11 a.m. Saturday at the church. O.L. Hughes & Sons Mortuary is handling arrangements.