With the start of another NHL season right around the corner, former player Keith Jones, or “Jonesy,” remains heavily involved in hockey as an analyst for Versus and host of a sports talk show on Philadelphia’s radio waves.
However, Jones now gets his fix of the rush of competition from a New Jersey-bred three-year-old gelding named All of the Above, who he and his wife, Laura, and daughter, Adrian, purchased as a yearling in 2009, and was beaten just a nose in his last start in the $150,000 Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 9.
“It’s like watching your teammate score a game-winning overtime goal in the playoffs. The excitement it brings is just incredible,” said Jones, who scored 119 goals and tallied 258 points in 491 games played over nine seasons in the NHL. “It’s a similar feeling to when I played hockey and I’ve missed that over the last 11 years now. It’s like being involved with a team, where my wife and daughter are part of that team.”
All of the Above was one of three yearlings (the other two are still winless after 14 combined starts) that Jones acquired from Casino Royale Farms, which was in financial difficulty and needed to find good homes for their young horses.
Upon arriving at the farm approximately 30 minutes from their home, the Jones’, along with trainer John Scanlan and breeding expert “Fed Ex” Tony, were greeted by approximately 14 horses, all in the same paddock.
“The horses were being taken care of, but it wasn’t an ideal situation,” said Jones.
All the horses came to greet their visitors … except one. He stood back and put his neck up in the air and seemed to shrug his shoulders in disdain.
“My wife gravitated visually to All of the Above and said that’s the one she wanted,” said Jones. “I was a spectator. They all looked good to me.”
Upon consulting with “Fed Ex” Tony, whom Jones has been race track buds with for quite some time, the seal of approval was given to the son of 2003 Brooklyn Handicap (Grade II) winner Iron Deputy out of the mare Sprinkles Rodeogal, who won 12 races in her career and earned over $160,000.
Purchased for $4,000, Laura and Adrian wanted to name the horse All the Above, after the song by Maino and T-Pain. The Jockey Club wouldn’t accept the name as is, so Jonesy improvised a little.
It turns out the song provides a great anthem for the success the horse has had thus far, highlighted by the line, “See me come up from nothing. See me living my dream.”
A late-blooming horse both physically and mentally, Scanlan was patient with All of the Above, waiting 31 months for his knees to close before bringing him to the races. That kind of time is usually not afforded to a horse with a cheap price tag in today’s era of rushing horses to the races to help defray the costs of maintaining them.
Scanlan has been training for 35 years, but has just three wins from 40 starters in 2011. His best year came in 2002 when he won 31 races for $1.1 million.
After the second start of All of the Above’s career, in which he tired badly going a route of ground that he wasn’t ready for, Jones gave an ultimatum to his longtime friend.
Win the next race or there was going to be a trainer change.
“We had to give him every opportunity to reach his potential. He lost by a neck in that next race and I was actually happier that he did,” said Jones. “John would kill me for saying that, but luckily he and I have remained friends.”
Owners often feel their horses should be performing better than they are and make haphazard trainer switches that only result in success after dropping the horse into easier competition.
However, the move to Anthony Dutrow has resulted in more success than Jones could have ever imagined.
“Although I’d never even met him, I wanted to move the horse to Tony because I knew there was another level to this horse. How I knew I don’t know. I just felt it,” said Jones. “With the limited knowledge of racing that I have, I look back and it’s amazing to watch what’s happened. I was actually right for one of the few times in my life.”
What happened was three straight wins by a combined 15 ¾ lengths and the aforementioned runner-up effort in the Long Branch that pushed All of the Above’s career earnings to $139,500.
“That horse came to me well. He just matured and liked our barn. The previous connections did a good job with him,” said Dutrow, who has won nearly 1,600 races in his training career for purses totaling over $52 million. “I thought I had a horse that could break his maiden at Parx. I didn’t think it was very likely that he would accomplish a lot more than that.”
All of the Above’s accomplishments have been further flattered by Long Branch winner Rattlesnake Bridge, who finished second in his subsequent start in the $1 million Travers Stakes (Grade I) at Saratoga.
Also exiting the Long Branch was Wilburn, the eventual winner of the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, and the promising Little Drama.
“From the time I got him until now, I’m very, very surprised. However, as he was making these gradual steps towards the Long Branch I was really not surprised. I was impressed,” said Dutrow.
Along with J W Blue, who ran third in the Travers after finishing second in a pair of stakes at Delaware Park, All of the Above has emerged as one of the top three-year-olds in Dutrow’s barn.
“I’ve been impressed with everything he’s done. He seems to have run excellent in all four races no matter what the scenario,” said Dutrow. “We’re very lucky. They don’t make a lot like him.”
Jones grew up in Brantford, Ontario, Canada (Wayne Gretzky’s hometown) and developed his passion for horses by taking the $82 he made from working at the local go-cart track to bet the trotters at Flamboro Downs.
That evolved into following harness racing at Rosecroft Raceway with Washington Capitals teammate Dale Hunter and Ed Olczyk, who played for the New York Rangers at the time.
After meeting big-time owner Dan Borislow, Jones got involved with thoroughbreds as a 3 percent owner of Wild Desert. The Canadian-bred went on to win the $1 million Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in 2005 and earned just over $1 million in his career.
“That was my introduction to the big races on a very small level,” said Jones, who has dabbled primarily in the claiming game since then.
Much like another nationally prominent TV personality and thoroughbred owner Jim Rome, Jones also feels a responsibility to serve as an ambassador for the sport.
Moving to the next level of horse racing by being in Dutrow’s barn and experiencing the beauty of a summer race meet like Saratoga from behind the scenes is something Jones truly appreciates.
“The key is to bring people to the track, and not necessarily just the races, but to the back side to see what goes into everything and how majestic it is. Go at the break of dawn and see and hear the horses train,” said Jones. “There’s a lot of untapped ownership potential that is out there.”
All of the Above has gained quite a few fans along the way, with Jonesy keeping his listeners up to date with how the horse is doing and where he’s scheduled to run.
“We’ve really been spoiled in the Philadelphia area with some great horse stories like Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex that have galvanized us,” said Jones. “Hopefully, All of the Above’s story can continue to unfold and get to that level.”
Unfortunately, All of the Above’s career has been temporarily put on hold due to a foot bruise. He was scratched out of a race at Saratoga on August 24 and will miss the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on September 24.
“He’s improving, but he’s not where we want him to be yet,” said Dutrow.
So, the gelding can be considered day-to-day, a status which Jonesy knows all too well after his injury-plagued NHL career.
The time will hopefully not come for a while, but when All of the Above’s racing days are over, he will retire to the Jones farm that houses six horses and potentially become a jumper.
“My wife and daughter take care of the horses for the most part, but I have no problem going in there and mucking stalls and carrying water buckets,” said Jones. “I love the lifestyle and going out and watching the horses walking in our paddock. The entire picture to me is a pretty cool one.”
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