Tom Fool died last Aug. 20 at the age of 27 in Kentucky, largely unnoticed except by the trade publications. He deserved better treatment than that from the sporting press, and from this writer in particular, because I never saw a more determined-looking colt in my life.
Remembered is a beautiful September afternoon at Belmont Park in 1958. This feature was the Sysonby Stakes in which Tom Fool was to have opposed the season's champion 3-year-old, Native Dancer.
Native Dancer didn't show for the Sysonby, a smart move on the "Grey Ghout's" part because he would have been defeated. No animal on four legs was going to beat Tom Fool that day, not even a cheetah. You could see that, just looking at Tom Fools face as Teddy Atkinson, wearing the Greentree silks, guided him out of the Belmont paddock.
That horse, about to go onto the track that day, is a memory forever stamped on my brain. Not all male runners look the part of champions, you know. some are almost effeminate. Others are plain. Tom Fool had the look of a killer. anybody who would have bet against that look simply didn't like money.
And Tom Fool ran to his looks, most of the time. He was a champion 2-year-old. Duval Headley bred and raised the colt (by Menow out of Gaga, by Bull Dog) at his Manchester Farm near Lexington. A half-sister, Aunt Jinny, had been nation's best 2-year-old filly of 1950.
Headley offered to sell the colt as a yearling to John Hay Whitney, co-owner of Greentree. Whitney knew a bargain when he saw one, and accepted the offer. By the following summer, when Tom fool was about to make his first start, the word was out: "You are going to see a great 2-year-old come out tomorrow," Maj. Louie Beard, then Greentree's farm manager, declared.
The major was telling no lies. Tom Fool was brilliant at 2, but considerately less spectacular as a 3-year-old, when he suffered a series of physical ailments. As a 4-year-old, however, Tom Fool ran 10 times and won 10 times. He was the Horse of the Year, although native Dancer was the Horse of the People.
Tom Fool won the Station Handicap at Jamaica under 128 pounds, at 5 1/2 furlongs. Then followed the Joe Palmer Handicap, over one mile, under 130. The Metropolitan Mile was next, under 130, followed by the Suburban at a mile and a quarter.
Those last two were the famous confrontations with Royal Vale. Tom Fool took the Met by a half-length, the Suburban by a nose in 2:00 3/5. "Royal Vale day," Charlie Hatton once remarked. "Tom Fool was beaten until he rolled his eyes toward Royal Vale and told him otherwise. he gave him a look that would have stopped any rival."
Tom Fool captured the Carter handicap before finishing a sweep of the handicap Triple Crown series in the Brooklyn, under 136. All that remained were four weight-for-age events where the weight was 125 or 126 pounds. Tom Fool whipped through all four - the Wilson by eight, the Whitney by 3 1/2, the Sysonby by three and tthe Pimlico Special by eight.
John Campbell assigned Tom Fool Highweight. The race was declined. By then Tom Fool had nothing to prove.
There have been a few thoroughbreds who were better, perhaps, on the American racing scene in modern times. But none ever compiled a better record than Tom Fool did in 1953. I'll always remember him for that, and even more for the look he gave the world leaving the Belmont paddock for the Sysonby that fail, "Nobody can beat me," his expression said. Nobody did.