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John A. Bell III

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John A. Bell  III Obituary
John A. Bell III, who sold pigs to launch a career as a leader in horse racing, has died.

The founder of Jonabell Farm died yesterday evening at St. Joseph Hospital Hospice after battling pulmonary fibrosis. Mr. Bell was 88.

Jonabell Farm may be most widely known as the home to Triple Crown winner Affirmed, who is buried there. The farm was sold in 2001 to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Mr. Bell, raised on a farm near Pittsburgh, used the proceeds from the sale of a litter of pigs to buy his first mare. He founded Jonabell Farm in Fayette County in 1954.

"If one would write a job description of the perfect owner, breeder and representative of the thoroughbred industry, John Bell would be the epitome," former Keeneland chairman James E. "Ted" Bassett, said in a 1990 interview.

Mr. Bell raised Never Say Die, who was the first American-bred horse to win the English Derby, said Ed Bowen, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.

He also raised prize-winning horses Damascus, Battlefield and Epitome, Bowen said.

He owned two winners of the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland: Trysomethingnew and Hail a Cab.

Bennett Bell Williams, one of Mr. Bell's daughters, said that in his last days, her father had become involved in creating the Bell Chair for Alcohol and Addictions at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

Mr. Bell was a recovering alcoholic, sober for 30 years.

"He spent a lot of time helping others who had the same misfortune," she said.

Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, touted Mr. Bell as a gentleman who was respected for his knowledge of the horse industry even when people didn't agree with his views.

Mr. Bell was on the racing committee of the American Horse Council in the 1970s when federal legislation for simulcasting was passed.

"They knew that he always fought for what was in the best interest of the horse," Nicholson said.

Now 85 percent of amounts wagered in the country are not at the race sites.

"And it wouldn't have happened without Mr. Bell," Nicholson said.

Nicholson said Mr. Bell was always great fun and he never took himself too seriously.

Mr. Bell also was a board member at Keeneland and on the executive committee.

Mr. Bell was instrumental in helping to organize the American Horse Council in Washington, D.C., Bowen noted.

Mr. Bell was president of the Thoroughbred Club of America, member of the Kentucky Racing Commission, a director the Breeders' Cup board and director of the Grayson Foundation.

He graduated from Princeton University and attended Harvard School of Business. He first came to Kentucky on a vacation in 1946 after he served in the military.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Jessica Gay Bell; daughters Jessica Nicholson and Bennett Williams; sons John A. Bell IV and James G. "Jimmy" Bell.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home, 463 East Main Street.

"It's a bit of an end of an era," Bennett Williams said.

Published in Lexington Herald-Leader on Feb. 1, 2007
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