Ted Atkinson, a Hall of Fame rider whose mounts included 1950s superstar Tom Fool, died May 5 at his home near Beaverdam, Va., following an illness. He would have turned 89 next month.
Atkinson rode such other champions as Capot, Coaltown, Devil Diver, Misty Morn, and Nashua, but none compared to Tom Fool. "On his best day, none of the other horses I ever rode, on their
best days, could measure up with him," Atkinson told The Blood-Horse
following his retirement.
Jim Gaffney, an exercise rider during part of the time Atkinson rode and later Secretariat's exercise rider, remembered his friend as something special. "He was very smart, an intelligent rider," Gaffney said from New York. "He could gauge the way a horse was running and was a good judge of pace."
Gaffney last saw Atkinson in Virginia the spring of 2003 for the 30th-year anniversary of Secretariat's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) win. "I found him very sharp at the time," he said.
A contract rider for Greentree Stable for 12 years, Atkinson rode the outfit's Tom Fool in all the horse's 30 starts. As a 4-year-old in 1953, Tom Fool became only the second horse to win the New York Handicap Triple, consisting of the Metropolitan, Suburban, and Brooklyn Handicaps, and went unbeaten in 10 starts that year. As a stallion, Tom Fool sired the equally great Buckpasser.
Atkinson won the 1949 Preakness and Belmont Stakes on Greentree's Capot and also rode the colt to a runner-up placing in the Kentucky Derby. It was the best finish among Atkinson's six Derby tries.
Known as The Slasher for his aggressive whipping style, the Toronto-born Atkinson rode from 1937 to 1959 and twice was North America's leading jockey by both wins and money in the same year (1944 and 1946). He was the first rider to top the $1 million mark in seasonal earnings, in 1946.
Atkinson's big win on Calumet Farm's Coaltown came in the 1949 Widener Handicap at Hialeah. Atkinson won the 1944-45 Metropolitan Handicap on Greentree's Devil Diver, and was aboard War Relic when that runner beat heavy favorite Whirlaway in the 1941 Narragansett Special.
Atkinson, who won with 3,795 of his career 23,661 mounts (16%), was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1957. He served as a steward at several tracks, including 16 years at the Illinois ovals.
Atkinson is survived by his wife, Martha, three children, and three grandchildren, including televison racing analyst Caton Bredar.