Brereton Jones, the former governor of Kentucky whose Thoroughbred legacy will live on through his family’s breeding farm in the heart of horse
country, died Monday at age 84.
“I was sad to learn that former governor and (lieutenant
governor) Brereton Jones has passed away,” current Kentucky governor Andy
Beshear posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Governor Jones was a dedicated leader
and a distinguished Thoroughbred owner who worked to strengthen Kentucky for
Jones and his wife Libby were married in 1970 and bought their
Kentucky farm in Midway, Ky., in 1972. Airdrie Stud has grown to cover nearly
four square miles and is run now by the couple’s son Bret Jones.
“We’re proud of the quality of our horses and facilities and
of our up-to-date technology in all areas,” the Joneses wrote on the farm’s
website. “However, the real secret to our success in international racing and breeding
is rooted in the experience, resourcefulness and talent of our dedicated staff.”
Under Jones, Airdrie’s homebreds won three runnings of the Grade
1 Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell in 2008, Believe You Can in 2012 and Lovely
Maria in 2015. No Such Word, another filly bred at Airdrie, finished her racing
career in 2010 by winning the Gazelle (G1) at Aqueduct.
Before he was elected to serve his one term as Kentucky governor
from 1991 to 1995, Jones was a founding member, treasurer and director in the
early days of the Breeders’ Cup in the 1980s. He would serve again on the organization’s
board from 1996 to 2005.
“Governor Jones’s passion for Thoroughbred racing and
breeding was second to none,” Breeders’ Cup president and CEO Drew Fleming said
in a written statement Monday. “Not only did he position Breeders’ Cup for
long-term success as a founding member, but as governor of Kentucky he
tirelessly promoted the Thoroughbred industry while simultaneously building a
legacy that will live on through Airdrie Stud. We are forever grateful for his
contributions to our sport and send our sincere condolences to his family and
Messages of praise for Jones came in from around the racing
“Brereton Jones was widely
respected for his leadership and integrity, serving the Thoroughbred industry
as a statesman and visionary and the commonwealth of Kentucky as governor and lieutenant
governor,” Keeneland president Shannon Arvin said. “His passion for horses and
the land knew no bounds and culminated in his beloved Airdrie Stud, which for
more than 50 years has been one of the world’s foremost breeding operations. He
believed in racing and worked tirelessly to improve our sport as a founding
member of Breeders’ Cup and the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a member of
The Jockey Club and by championing formation of the Kentucky Breeders’
Incentive Fund. At Keeneland, we will remember governor Jones
fondly as a breeder, owner, consignor and buyer of the highest caliber, and for
being a valued member of our advisory board. We will celebrate his life and
contributions and the tremendous legacy he leaves behind.”
“Governor Brereton Jones was a true champion for Kentucky’s
horse industry,” KEEP chairman Case Clay said. “His legacy will forever be felt
in our organization and throughout the entire equine community. We are deeply
saddened by his loss and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family during
this difficult time.”
“Brereton Jones was a true champion for the horse-racing
industry at all levels for decades,” Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and
Protective Association president Rick Hiles said in a statement. “Yes, he was
an owner and breeder himself, but he also understood how vital the breeding and
racing industries are for the economy and tourism throughout the state and not
just Central Kentucky and Louisville. Governor Jones served the state of
Kentucky well. He was a great horseman, was great for the industry and bred and
raced a lot of great horses. … He was just so friendly and respectful of
everyone at the racetrack whether they ran the track or mucked out stalls. He
will be sorely missed.”
A native of Gallipolis, Ohio who grew up in nearby Point Pleasant, W.Va., before attending the University of Virginia, Jones was a football player who hoped to become a
minister before an early career in real estate, construction and raising horses
took him back to West Virginia.
Jones, who became a Democrat, actually began his political
career at 24 as a Republican in the West Virginia legislature. The horse business
lured him and his new wife to her native Kentucky.
As an avowed champion of government ethics, Jones left the
Republican party in the wake of the Watergate scandal and in 1975 became a registered
Democrat who was a fierce advocate for affordable health care. He was elected
lieutenant governor and served in that role from 1987 until he was voted in as
governor in 1991.
“He was a staunch advocate for improving healthcare access for
all citizens,” Kentucky House Democrats Derrick Graham, Cherlynn Stevenson and
Rachel Roberts said. “He embraced ethics reforms for government, he was a vocal
supporter of our signature horse industry and state parks, and he helped clear
the way for future constitutional officers to serve two consecutive terms.
There is no doubt Kentuckians are much better off because of governor Jones’s
While in state office Jones survived a helicopter crash and
a fall from a horse. Instead, his political career was limited by the state
constitution, which at the time did not let the governor run for re-election.
After 1995, Jones retired to focus on the horse industry.
“Brereton was a good friend and a fine man,” said Kentucky
House speaker David Osborne, a Republican. “He cared deeply about the people of
our commonwealth, and his commitment to Kentucky remained a common thread in
every aspect of his life, whether it be political, civic, business or personal.
One of the great hallmarks of his character was that he simply did not care who
got the credit as long as the goal was accomplished. As governor as well as in
the three decades since leaving office, he found a way to balance progress with
knowing what must be preserved. We saw it in the issues he tackled in office as
well as in his work to bring the equine industry together.”
Jones is survived by wife Libby, son Bret and daughter Lucy.