Jonabell Farm, with 800 acres of rolling pastures, is at the center of HH Sheikh Mohammed’s thoroughbred operations in North America. Located on Bowman Mill Road, near Lexington’s Bluegrass Field airport, John A. Bell and his wife Jessica founded the farm in 1954 as a thoroughbred nursery which the family operated for nearly 50 years. Sheikh Mohammed purchased Jonabell in 2001 from the Bells, and then in 2005, the stallion operations at Gainsborough Farm and Jonabell were consolidated to this location.
Darley at Jonabell
Jonabell has produced over 200 Stakes winners – 14 champions – including leading sire Damascus and the Bell’s homebred Breeders’ Cup winner Epitome. Bell also raised Never Say Die, the first American-bred horse to win the Epsom Derby. Holy Bull retired to Jonabell in 1995 and is considered one of the best racehorses in North America over the last quarter century. He is now enjoying his retirement following a successful stud career. Affirmed, the 1978 Triple Crown winner, stood at stud at Jonabell for the last ten years of his life and is buried at the farm near the stallion complex.
Looking back a bit farther into the history of Jonabell finds its origins tracing to Colonel Abraham Bowman, an early pioneer and settler in what is now Fayette County which encompasses the city of Lexington. Bowman and his brothers first ventured to Kentucky in the mid-1770s when they extensively explored the area and also during a time in which Bowman became friends with the great frontiersman, Daniel Boone. Bowman’s sons, too, were no strangers to exploration. Bowman’s wife, Sarah, was a cousin to Meriwether Lewis of the famous “Lewis and Clark Expedition”, the first exploration mapping the western half of the United States. Abraham and Sarah’s sons took part in the first half of the historic journey before returning to Kentucky.
After serving in the American Revolutionary War, Bowman was land granted nearly 7,500 acres in central Kentucky and eventually acquired additional land and settled on what is now Jonabell. Bowman’s original holdings included the land upon which Keeneland Racetrack now sits, a tract of land he left in his will to daughter Polly Keene.
The "Abraham Bowman, Jr. House" (also referred to as the “Bell House”), built between 1811 and 1818, is one of the oldest brick houses in Lexington and underwent extensive renovation in 2009/2010. The accompanying photo below shows some artifacts founds in the walls of the house during the makeover – a woman’s shoe, a child’s shoe and some bottles reflective of the time.
About a mile down the road is the "Woolfolk House", a two-story Federal brick house constructed between 1814 and 1820. Sheikh Mohammed has also had this house renovated to preserve it for future generations. Near the Woolfolk House is the “Bowman Cabin”, believed to be the oldest cabin in Fayette County having been built around 1779, 13 years prior to Kentucky becoming a state.
Following Bowman’s ownership, Jonabell passed into the hands of Ed Corrigan, owner of the 1890 Kentucky Derby winner Riley and founder and original owner of Hawthorne Racecourse in Chicago, IL, which still remains in operation. The stone water tower next to the Abraham Bowman, Jr. House was constructed around 1904 when Corrigan owned the farm.
Today, Jonabell is home to many of North American’s top stallions, including Preakness winner and Eclipse Champion Bernardini, who raced for Sheikh Mohammed, along with the likes of leading sire Medaglia d’Oro, Derby winners Street Sense and Animal Kingdom, as well as Smarty Jones’s sire, Elusive Quality. Sheikh Mohammed’s homebred Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry also stood at Jonabell following his retirement in 2002 until his untimely death in 2014.
Approximately 50 employees currently work at Jonabell with duties ranging from stallion, mare, and foal care to office positions like human resources and stallion nominations.
Dan Pride is the Chief Operating Officer for Godolphin in America. Jimmy Bell, John’s son, is President and oversees the Godolphin racing stable in the United States.