Tom RolfeTom Rolfe let it be known that he was a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender with a victory in the April 24 Stepping Stone at Churchill Downs a week before the big race."Many who saw Tom Rolfe's performance in the seven-furlong Stepping Stone Purse on opening day at Churchill Downs were surprised by his apparent effortless turn of early speed which carried the son of Ribot to a convincing victory over Native Charger," The Blood-Horse's Kent Hollingsworth wrote.
Tom Rolfe, who went into the Stepping Stone off a win in the Cheapeake Stakes at Laurel, was last of six before taking command around the turn. At the end, he was 1 3/4 lengths in front of odds-on favorite Native Charger in the time of 1:22 4/5."Oh, he's got speed all right," jockey Ron Turcotte told Hollingsworth "He broke maybe a neck in front, then I pulled him back."The year's classics as a whole were among the most exciting in history as the winning margin in all three races was a neck. In the Derby, Tom Rolfe ran gamely at the end, but couldn't catch Lucky Debonair and Dapper Dan (also by Ribot) and finished third. Tom Rolfe beat Dapper Dan in the Preakness, thus launching the Ribot era in the U.S. In the Belmont, Tom Rolfe finished second to Hail to All, with Dapper Dan fourth.