Walmac founder and King Of Kings breeder Johnny Jones dies aged 84

Texas native and veteran horseman John TL Jones jnr died on Friday surrounded by family at his home in Quanah, Texas. He was 84.

Known to most friends and people in the industry as 'Big Johnny', Jones began his career working with quarter horses as both a manager and trainer for Walter Merrick from 1966 to 1970.

In 1976, Jones founded Walmac International in Lexington, Kentucky, where he oversaw the stallion careers of several prominent thoroughbred sires including Nureyev, Alleged, Miswaki, Successful Appeal and Songandaprayer among others.

When John Gaines dreamed up the concept of the Breeders' Cup and presented his idea to industry leaders in the early 1980s, he credited Jones as the person most responsible for encouraging everyone to work together after they'd hit a standstill.

His contribution was especially gratifying when Cajun Beat, a horse co-bred by Jones (with H Smoot Fahlgren), won the 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint. Jones was also involved with Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Favorite Trick, the 1997 Horse of the Year whose breeding rights had been purchased by Walmac in August of his two-year-old season.

Jones sold Walmac to his son, John TL Jones III and Robert Trussell in 2005 but remained as director emeritus. On November 8, the historic operation was purchased by California owner-breeder Gary Broad for $4.8 million at auction.

Jones holds the distinction of being the only person to breed both a 2,000 Guineas winner - King Of Kings, co-bred with Ron Con - and an All American Futurity winner, Ochoa, quarter horse racing's all-time money leader who also won the Rainbow Derby and All American Derby.

Among other notable horses bred by Jones is former top thoroughbred sire Unusual Heat. In his 18 years at stud, the son of Nureyev produced 44 stakes winners and 2011 champion older horse Acclamation.

In the quarter horse world, Jones either bred or co-bred champions Ochoa, Noconi, and Brenda Beautiful, all of whom he raced in partnership in his name or that of his J Bar 7 Ranch.

In addition to his work as a breeder, manager, and owner, Jones was also a founding partner of Four Star Sales. His former colleague Kerry Cauthen, now the managing partner of Four Star Sales, remembers Jones as a titan of the industry.

"(He was a) legend," Cauthen said. "He lived four or five lives, and they were all good. He was my mentor and great friend, and he probably brought more people into the business than almost anybody on both the client side as well as the industry side. He was something else. He really transformed so many things, it's unbelievable. He's kind of the 'Marlboro Man' of the thoroughbred business.

"It's kind of like when John Wayne died," Cauthen continued. "Even though you know he wasn't well, you had lost a big hero. He was one of those kind of guys."

In 2016, Jones was inducted into the Texas Horse Racing Hall of Fame. Throughout his career, Jones served on the boards of both the Breeders' Cup and the Keeneland Association, as the vice-chairman for the Kentucky Racing Commission, director of the Association of State Racing Commissioners, and director for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. He is also a former member of the executive committee of the Texas Horse Racing Association.

Alicia Wincze Hughes and Meredith Daugherty contributed to this report.