Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 60 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 60 Days to Go!

*Tomy Lee (pronounced Tommy) became the second foreign-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, having been bred by Captain H.D.H. Willis and foaled at Hadrian Stud in England. *Tomy Lee was by Tudor Minstrel, out of the Brantome mare, Auld Alliance. He was sent to the Newmarket sale as a weanling, where he was purchased for $6762 as a traveling companion for a horse named *Tuleg, a $25,000 purchase that never amounted to much on the track. *Tuleg and *Tomy Lee were purchased by an English agent named Bertie Kerr on behalf of Fred Turner, Jr., a millionaire oilman from Texas. Turner named the colt Tomy Lee as he liked the way it sounded, choosing to spell it Tomy instead of Tommy, thinking that it would be easier to get it approved by the Jockey Club.

The bay juvenile was sent to trainer Frank Childs for conditioning. In spite of being purchased a traveling companion, *Tomy Lee turned out to be a great bargain, winning his first 6 races in California, including the Haggin, Charles S. Howard, and Starlet Stakes, as well as the Del Mar Futurity. He then shipped to New York where he finished second twice, though he was moved to third in the Champagne for interference. At three, he would place second in his first two starts in California, the San Vicente Stakes and San Felipe Handicap. Shipped to Kentucky to prep for the Kentucky Derby, *Tomy Lee would break the 7-furlong track record at Keeneland, setting the new record to 1:21 3/5. The bay colt would also win the Bluegrass Stakes with jockey Bill Shoemaker aboard, who was under contract to ride in the Kentucky Derby. The week before the big race, Shoemaker would ride the talented Sword Dancer to a victory in the Stepping Stone Purse. Believing Sword Dancer to be the better horse, he would have ridden him if he could have gotten out of his obligation to *Tomy Lee.

In the 85th Kentucky Derby, *Tomy Lee and Shoemaker faced 17 horses in the mile and a quarter race. As they made their way down the backstretch, the duo was in a speed duel with Troilus. Once they drew away, Sword Dancer entered into the fray, drawing to even terms at the 5/16th pole. As they entered the stretch, *Tomy Lee was just a nose in front. Shoemaker, believing his horse beat, wished jockey Bill Boland atop Sword Dancer good luck. He couldn’t get his horse to switch leads, so he changed the crop to his other hand and started to fan on the left side. Despite what Shoemaker thought, *Tomy Lee wasn’t finished. The two colts started bumping in the stretch, causing *Tomy Lee to switch strides, getting a renewed burst of energy. They battled the final eighth mile, head to head, with *Tomy Lee digging deep and pulling out the victory by a whisker, in 2:02 1/5. After the race, Boland claimed foul against Shoemaker and *Tomy Lee. After a 17-minute deliberation the stewards disallowed the protest. The win was the first for owner Fred Turner and trainer Frank Childs, in both of their first tries. In 1987, Turner’s daughter and grand-daughter, Dorothy and Pamela Scharbauer, would also win the Kentucky Derby on their first try with Alysheba.

*Tomy Lee’s trainer, Frank Childs, didn’t like the spacing of the Triple Crown races, so the Derby champion didn’t run in either, instead returning to California to rest. After the Derby, Turner became angry with Shoemaker as he thought that they had an agreement for Shoemaker to ride *Tomy Lee in his next start. Shoemaker was on the East Coast, telling them that he wasn’t going to be able to make it to California. Turner was angry about having to get a replacement rider, especially when the colt finished sixth. Turner told the newspapers that he was thinking of retiring from horse racing. After 2 starts at 4 when he finished unplaced, *Tomy Lee was retired and purchased by Lou Doherty to stand at the Stallion Station near Lexington. He was thought to be infertile, although tests showed otherwise. It turned out that he was a “shy breeder”, only having 2 foals in 1961 and 1962.

Returned to racing at 6 with trainer Charlie Whittingham, *Tomy Lee won his only start. Then at 7, he won 3 of his 13 starts, before he was retired again. He would sire 3 foals in 1966, and 4 foals in 1967, for a total of 11. The best of those was stakes placed Magna Mater who finished second in the Adirondack Stakes, then becoming a broodmare. *Tomy Lee passed away in 1971 due to kidney failure, being buried at Pillar Stud in Lexington, KY.

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Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum