Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame

Tom Fool

1953 Horse of the Year

Tom Fool's name stems from his dam's, Gaga, which is a slang term for foolish, or crazy. A daughter of top sire *Bull Dog, Gaga had produced the Champion Juvenile Filly Aunt Jinny a year before Tom Fool was foaled at the Manchester Farm on March 31, 1949.

Gaga, a stakes placed winner of $15,875, was from an outstanding female family. Her dam, Alpoise, was a daughter of two time Horse of the Year Equipoise and the dam of the durable Algasir, winner of $210,250. Alpoise also produced Bull Poise, dam of Ambiopoise, who earned $375,872, and the stakes placed filly Snoop. Gaga's second dam, Laughing Queen, was a stakes winning full sister to Pompey, the Juvenile Champion of 1925. Their sire, Sun Briar, had been the Juvenile Champion of 1917. Gaga's third dam was Cleopatra, the Champion Three Year Old Filly of 1920.

The bay colt known as Tom Fool was bred by Duval A. Headley, who as a trainer had saddled his sire, Menow, to upset War Admiral in the 1938 Massachusetts Handicap. Menow had also earned honors as the Champion Juvenile Colt of 1937, when his triumphs had included the prestigious Futurity Stakes. Menow's dam, Alcibiades, was also very successful on the track, having been named divisional champion as a juvenile filly in 1929, and again as a three-year-old in 1930, racing in the name of Hal Price Headley.

As a yearling, Tom Fool was sold privately for the sum of $20,000. His future trainer, John Gaver, didn't even think his client would want the colt when he tangled with a fence and cut his leg. He was wrong, and the sale was completed.

The buyer, John Hay Whitney, better known as Jock, was the co-owner of Greentree Stable, which he owned in partnership with his sister, Mrs. Charles S. Payson. They had campaigned Capot, a Belmont Stakes winning son of Menow, in 1949, the year Tom Fool was foaled. Their mother, Mrs. Payne Whitney, had been involved in racing since 1910, and had named her stable after the Greentree Cup, a race at the Great Neck Hunt Meeting, after it was won by her steeplechaser Web Carter in 1911. Among the stars which had campaigned in the Greentree silks were the 1931 Horse of the Year and Kentucky Derby winner Twenty Grand, the great steeplechaser Jolly Roger, the champion handicapper Devil Diver, and 1942 Kentucky Derby winner Shut Out, a son of C.V. Whitney's two time Horse of the Year Equipoise.

John M. Gaver had graduated from Princeton in 1924, and after tiring of teaching languages and working as a bank clerk, he turned to working with thoroughbreds as James Rowe, Jr.'s assistant at Payne Whitney Stables. He then became the trainer for Greentree Stables, as well as manager of Greentree Stud, conditioning Shut Out to win the 1942 Kentucky Derby. John Gaver trained the *St. Germans colt Devil Diver to dual handicap division championships in 1943 and 1944, won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes with the champion Capot in 1949, and won the Futurity Stakes, among other races, with Guillotine, also in 1949. During his career, Gaver also handled the stakes horses One Hitter, Straight Face, Third Degree, Tangled, Amphitheatre, The Rhymer, Hall of Fame, Cohoes, Outing Class, Malicious, and the classic winning champion Stage Door Johnny. The best horse that Hall of Fame trainer John Gaver ever conditioned, however, was the great Tom Fool.

Tom Fool and Ted Atkinson head to the post

Jockey Ted Atkinson, whose mounts included the classic winners Capot, Nashua, and Hill Gail, as well as Horse of the Year Coaltown and the hot tempered Man o' War colt War Relic, also ranked Tom Fool as the best horse he was ever associated with, saying:

"Tom Fool, though, you could always depend on, and he could run like hell. On his best day, none of the other horses I ever rode, on their best days, could measure with him."

Early in 1951, Tom Fool suffered from cracked heels, therefore trainer John Gaver wasn't able to send him out to make his racing debut until after Saratoga opened in August of 1951. The colt then broke his maiden at first asking, cantering to a four length win. He next stepped up to stakes company in the Sanford Stakes, which he won just as easily, scoring by two and a quarter lengths from First Refusal. He met the early leader of the juvenile division, Saratoga Special and Great American Stakes winner Cousin, in the Grand Union Hotel Stakes. The son of Menow claimed victory by a length.

The Greentree colt endured his first defeat in the famed Hopeful Stakes, running second behind Cousin, whom he had beaten in the Grand Union Hotel Stakes. He then ran second behind Calumet Farm's future Kentucky Derby winner Hill Gail in a crowded Anticipation Purse while prepping for America's most prestigious juvenile event, the Futurity Stakes.

The Futurity field included both Hill Gail, who went to post as the favorite, and Hopeful Stakes winner Cousin. Tom Fool, fourth choice in the betting, scored victory by a length and three quarters, establishing himself as the nation's top juvenile colt and scoring revenge for his two earlier defeats.

Tom Fool ended the season by polishing off the East View Stakes, which turned out to be a harder fought event than the Futurity. The Greentree colt did not care for the mud, but he held on gamely to win by a neck

In November Tom Fool was officially named Champion Juvenile Colt, having yet to score less than second money. He was also ranked as the highweight on the Experimental Free Handicap, with a weight of 126.

As a three-year-old, Tom Fool came back to win an allowance race, then lost the Wood Memorial, finishing a neck behind the late closing Master Fiddle. Suffering a fever and a cough, Tom Fool was out of commission for nine weeks, missing the spring classics, and his old rival Hill Gail wore the roses in his absence.

Returning to the races, Tom Fool was beaten by a head by Hitex in Aqueduct's Rippey Handicap. He then ran fourth behind High Scud and Mark-Ye-Well in the Tazwell Purse at Arlington Park.

Tom Fool didn't stay down long. He went to Saratoga and successfully negotiated a sloppy track to win the Wilson Mile from older horses by four and a half lengths. Tom Fool was next nosed out by Count Flame in the Caughnawaga Purse while prepping for the Travers. Belmont Stakes winner One Count got the better of Tom Fool in the Summer Derby, and the son of Menow finished third behind Armageddon after being forced wide.

On September 17, Tom Fool went to post in the Jerome Handicap. Calumet Farm's talented Mark-Ye-Well, with Eddie Arcaro in the irons, was the favorite, having scored victories in both the Arlington Classic and the American Derby while racing in Chicago. Also among the ten horse field was Cain Hoy Stable's Armageddon, the one-eyed son of Preakness winner Alsab conditioned by Woody Stephans who had finished second in the Travers.

Marcador, longshot son of Derby winner Bold Venture, surprised the crowd by beating the Calumet star for place money. Tom Fool, in the meantime, took control coming into the homestretch and galloped home seven lengths in the lead, raising his lifetime earnings past the two hundred thousand dollar mark.

Thirteen days later Tom Fool won again, taking the one mile Sysonby Handicap by a length and a quarter from Alerted and Greek Ship. Tom Fool next was forced to give away fifteen pounds in the Roamer Handicap, and was beaten two lengths by Bahamas Handicap winner Quiet Step, who carried only 111 pounds. The time of 1:55 4/5 was close to Lucky Draw's track record.

Tom Fool at three.

In the Grey Lag Handicap, Tom Fool gave actual weight to George D. Widener's four-year-old Battlefield, Juvenile Champion of 1950 and winner of the Travers, Withers, and Dwyer Stakes in 1951. After controlling the early pace, Tom Fool was challenged by the Widener entry, and the pair dueled fiercely for three furlongs. The dramatic stretch drive was enhanced by a powerful closing run from third place finisher Alerted, who drew within a neck of the struggling pair. In the end, it was Tom Fool by a nose in the gamest of finishes, clocking the nine furlongs in 1:49 2/5. Also beaten was Quiet Step, the Greentree star's conqueror in the previous week's Roamer Handicap, as well as the former champion Oil Capital, and the stakes winners Combat Boots, To Market, and One Hitter.

Battlefield came back to return the favor when Tom Fool gave him one more pound in the Westchester Handicap just two weeks later. The son of War Relic took command with three furlongs to go, and held on just long enough to nose out Tom Fool, who had been caught in traffic on the rail. Alerted and Oil Capital once again ran third and fourth.

Closing out the season, the Menow colt successfully gave away nineteen pounds to Mercador and still won the Empire City Handicap. Said rider Ted Atkinson, "He's a great, game colt-and that's all there is to it." With that, Tom Fool headed for South Carolina, where Greentree Stables wintered its horses each year.

Having missed much of the season, and having been beaten in the Travers, Tom Fool earned none of the year Tom Fool in the winner's circle end awards. One Count, winner of the Belmont, the Travers, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, was named champion three-year-old colt and shared Horse of the Year honors with Alfred G. Vanderbilt's brilliant two-year-old star Native Dancer.

In 1953, Tom Fool was phenomenal. He started the season at Jamaica, winning the five and a half furlong Sation Handicap by two and a half lengths in 1:04 1/5. At Belmont, he won the six furlong Joe H. Palmer Handicap by a length and a half, despite an impost of 130 pounds and a game effort by the champion sprinter Tea-Maker.

Four days after the Joe H. Palmer Handicap Tom Fool went to post in the Metropolitan Handicap. Assigned 130 pounds again, Tom Fool stalked early leader Mr. Turf, entry-mate of Kentucky Derby winner Count Turf, for much of the race, went by him handily, and successfully held off the English-bred Royal Vale in the stretch to win by a half length in 1:35 4/5 on a track only rated good. Tom Fool may have preferred a fast track, but he certainly never failed to perform when he lacked one. Another nine lengths back, Santa Anita Handicap winner Intent held off Cold Command for third money.

The Greentree star made his next start on May 30, running in the historic Suburban Handicap, a race which his stablemate One Hitter had won the year before. Tom Fool's chief opposition was once again to be Mrs. Esther du Pont Weir's brown five-year-old Royal Vale. The English-bred horse had been purchased for $12,000 at the Doncaster sale, and had scored four wins in England as a three-year-old before crossing the Atlantic. Racing both over fences and on the flat, he was winless at four, but before his second place finish in Tom Fool's Metropolitan, he had scored seven wins in 1953, five of them stakes victories, and had set a North American record for a mile and a half on the turf in the Miami Beach Handicap at Hialeah. The rematch, in which Tom Fool carried 128 and Royal Vale carried 124, promised excitement, and neither horse disappointed.

Tom Fool took command early, and fought back with courage as Royal Vale made his drive. Seven lengths behind one of the most stirring battles in history, C.V. Whitney's Cold Command, under 114, was holding off future turf champion Iceburg II for the show purse. Even further back were Mrs. Jeffords' champions One Count, the previous season's Horse of the Year, and Kiss Me Kate, divisional champion as a three-year-old in 1951. Yet all eyes were on the dueling leaders. At the wire it could have been either horse, just past, and Royal Vale was in front. But the photo finish showed Tom Fool to be the winner, with a brilliant time of 2:00 3/5 for the mile and a quarter.

As impressive as the time was, Whisk Broom II's official time, under 139 in 1913, was faster, at two minutes flat. The accuracy of that figure has been questioned often, and was once more debated hotly. Also in doubt was the condition of the track. Listed as fast, it seemed slow to many riders that day. The only thing agreed upon was the brilliance of the performance. The New York Times called it the "best performance of his remarkable career," and an elated Ted Atkinson kissed his mount in the winner's circle. Asked about the action, he replied:

"If he would have lost I still would have kissed him-after a performance like that! ...for seven furlongs it seemed as though he could break a record at every pole. That's how handy he was."

Tom Fool now had the Handicap Triple Crown in his sights, and decided to add the Carter Handicap to his growing list of triumphs as the final jewel loomed into view. Assigned 135 pounds, the son of Menow laid back in fifth while first the ten-year-old Tea-Maker, Champion Sprinter of 1952, and then Mrs. Jan Burke's Squared Away set the pace. They were nearly at the top of the stretch when Atkinson sent his mount after the leader, and in what was described in the New York Times as a "superlative performance," the hero of Greentree drew away be two lengths to win as the 13-20 favorite. Tom Fool's time of 1:22 tied the stakes record, set only a year before by the Greentree runner Northern Star, also ridden by Atkinson.

The same day as Tom Fool's Carter Handicap, Royal Vale, under 120 pounds, broke the track record in winning the Sussex Handicap, going a mile and a quarter at Sussex Downs in 2:00 2/5, shaving a full 1 3/5 seconds off Stymie's twice tied but previously unsurpassed record.

Despite the heavy impost of 136 pounds, the Brooklyn Handicap turned out to be the easiest victory of the trilogy, which was no surprise to track management. Win bets only were accepted at the window. Giving between twenty six and thirty one pounds to each of four other entries, Tom Fool cantered past Golden Gloves to become the first horse since Whisk Broom II, forty years before, to sweep the series. The Daily Racing Form stated that the Greentree horse "continued on gamely to win with speed in reserve." Nick Wall, who took place money aboard the horse from Belair Stud, told the press:

"You just can't beat horses like that - no matter what the weights are."

On Tuesday, August 4, the Handicap Crown wearer cantered around the old Saratoga oval eight lengths in front of Indian Land, his only challenger, to score in the Wilson Stakes. That Saturday, he met Putnam Stable's Combat Boots, who had been nosed out by One Hitter in the Merchants' and Citizens' Handicap a week earlier, in the Whitney Stakes, and again was the easy winner, this time by three and a half lengths. No bets were taken in either race.

For the Fall Highweight Handicap, Tom Fool was assigned the unbelievable impost of 148 pounds. With Ted Atkinson recovering from a fall, it was decided that Tom Fool would stay in the barn. Instead, he was entered in the Sysonby Mile, by which time Ted Atkinson was able to ride again. Track management had more than doubled the purse, raising it to $50,000, in hopes of bringing Native Dancer and Tom Fool together. Unfortunately, the younger horse wasn't sound enough to run.

Going nearly wire-to-wire, Tom Fool won the betless Sysonby Mile by three lengths, eased up at the finish. The battle for second was more inspiring, with Saratoga Cup winner Alerted beating the champion three-year-old filly Grecian Queen by about a half length.

Tom Fool's final start came in the Pimlico Special, also a betless affair. Even without a serious challenge, he broke Capot's track record, going a mile and three sixteenths in 1:55 4/5 while Navy Page nosed out Alerted in his wake. Ted Atkinson described his mount's professional performance:

"He just wanted to run. I wasn't worried about any challengers. When Alerted closed in on us at the far turn, Tom Fool just responded the way I knew he would and pulled ahead."

The brilliant Tom Fool had remained unbeaten in ten starts that year, earning $256,355. The season's leading money winner was Native Dancer, who had earned $513,425. The Dancer, however, had the benefit of earning large purses in the classics, taking home $82,500 in the Belmont Stakes alone. Tom Fool, on the other hand, was limited to the Handicap division, where even the most important races couldn't rival the purses offered to three-year-olds. Tom Fool's sweep of the Handicap Triple Crown paid $104,100, while Native Dancer earned $157,700 with two firsts and a second in the three-year-old series. For his accomplishments in his final season, Tom Fool was named Horse of the Year, Champion Handicap Horse, and Champion Sprinter.

Standing at Greentree Stud outside of Lexington, Tom Fool at first showed no interest in the mares sent to him. The frustrated stud grooms turned him out with a farm mare, who attempted to teach the naive colt the facts of life. It didn't work. Therefore, it was announced that the champion would not cover any mares that year, for "undisclosed reasons."

But once Tom Fool began his stud career in earnest, he was a top sire. His offspring included Ogden Phipps' 1966 Horse of the Year Buckpasser, Calumet Farm's dual classic winner Tim Tam, and thirty-four other stakes winners, including Jester, Tompion, and Weatherwise. He is also the broodmare sire of 1975 Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, the champion mare Late Bloomer, Irish Derby winner Meadow Court, and eighty six additional stakes winners.

Tom Fool passed away on August 20, 1976, and is buried at Greentree Stud. He was honored by induction into the Hall of Fame in 1960. The NTWA named him "Horse of the Decade," and The Blood-Horse ranked Tom Fool eleventh on their list of 100 top horses of the twentieth century, three spots above his great son Buckpasser.

Tom Fool's Race Record

Year Starts Wins Seconds Thirds Earnings
Lifetime 30 21 7 1 $570,165

Tom Fool, 1949 bay colt

Menow Pharamond II Phalaris Polymelus
Selene Chaucer
Alcibiades Supremus Ultimus
Mandy Hamilton
Regal Roman Roi Herode
Lady Cicero
Gaga Bull Dog Teddy Ajax
Plucky Liege Spearmint
Alpoise Equipoise Pennant
Laughing Queen Sun Briar


Recommended titles include: Champions from the Daily Racing Form, Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 of the 20th Century from Blood-Horse, and Man O' War: Thoroughbred Legends #1 by Edward L. Bowen, as well as Seabiscuit on DVD .
Seabiscuit DVD

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