Tom Gentry is credited with being among the first to buy older mares and turn a profit selling their offspring

Tom Gentry is credited with being among the first to buy older mares and turn a profit selling their offspring

Courtesy Kathleen Spears

Legendary Horseman Tom Gentry Dies at 80

The charismatic Kentucky native served the industry in many ways with flair.

As an owner, breeder, consignor, racing official, and community leader, there were very few hats prominent Kentucky horseman Tom Gentry didn't wear in his storied lifetime. Gentry died at age 80 Oct. 31, leaving behind a rich legacy.

Gentry set his sights early on the Thoroughbred business, hooked the day his father, Olin Gentry, took him to Keeneland in April 1941 to see Whirlaway prep for the Kentucky Derby, according to family members. 

At 13, Gentry borrowed $3,000 from his father to buy the broodmare Rancor, who he turned around and sold in foal to Olympia for $20,000. A salesman was born. 

Gentry is credited with being among the first to buy older mares and turn a profit selling their offspring. In the mid 1970s through the early '80s, he purchased 17 mares for $3.1 million and sold their offspring as yearlings for over $45 million, according to his family. 

He enjoyed many home runs as a consignor, including selling a then-world record yearling in 1979 for $1.6 million. At the Keeneland July select yearling sale, Gentry's yearlings brought $2,862,000. At the Keeneland September yearling sale the same season, his yearlings brought $3,473,000. Only five years later, his consignments at both sales would be worth more than $10.18 million.

"My father had a passion for the horses and passion for life," said his daughter, Kathleen Spears. "He did it his way, and it was in a big way."

Besides possessing the gift of charisma, Gentry was a top-notch horseman as well. At 24, he bought a colt that blossomed into 1966 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Kauai King. Three years later, he bought a filly named Hail to Patsy who won 1969 Kentucky Oaks. 

In 1988, Gentry sold the highest-price yearling offered at public auction for $3.5 million, who was 1990 European miler champion Royal Academy. Then in 1990, he sold a filly for $2.1 million to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas—the only yearling filly that Lukas ever scored as a perfect 10 out of 10 at a sale.

In a span of 24 years, Gentry bred, raced and sold over 56 stakes winners, including Marfa (Santa Anita Derby, G1), Excitable Lady (Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes and Las Cienegas Handicap, Terlingua (Del Mar Debutante Stakes, G2, and dam of Storm Cat), Secretarial Queen (Ruth Lily Stakes and second in Hollywood Oaks, G1), War (1987 Blue Grass Stakes, G1), Judge Angelucci (San Antonio Handicap, G1; Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, G1; third in 1987 Breeders' Cup Classic, G1), Peace (John Henry Handicap, G1T), as well as, Royal Academy (Breeders' Cup Mile, G1T; Carroll Foundation July Cup, G1). 

Gentry's mare, Crimon Saint was the grand dam of Storm Cat, a world record holder and top international sire. Her offspring, which include graded stakes winners Royal Academy and Pancho Vilaa, generated nearly $17 million at auction as yearlings.

Gentry's passion for the sport attracted many high-profile people into the business: President Jimmy Carter, Prince Aly Khan, Don Ameche, Pat Riley, Bing Crosby, Lee Majors, Bill Shoemaker, Billy Davis, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim Bolger, and Dan Issel, to name a few. 

"He knew how to reach people and sell them on the thrill of the sport," Spears said.

Gentry also worked as a racing official in New Jersey (Garden State), Florida (Hialeah), and Illinois (Arlington Park) and served on several commissions and boards, including the Kentucky State Racing Commission and the Kentucky Horse Park board. He was a charter member of the Triangle Park Foundation board, a charter member of the Cardinal Hill Foundation, and was chairman of the Easter Seal Telethon for five years. He was a member of the Keeneland Club, the Wildcat Club, and the Thoroughbred Club of America, and was a U.K. Fellow.

Gentry had a flair for entertaining, as well, and would host parties that included entertainers and celebrity chefs such as Ray Charles, Bob Hope, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, Burt Bacharach, Chubby Checker, Wayne Newton, Peter Allen, Rosemary Clooney, the Coasters, Kool and the Gang, Peter Duchin, Wolfgang Puck, and Emeril Lagasse. 

Gentry is survived by his two children, Kathleen Spears and Olin B. Gentry, and his five grandchildren; Thomas Edward Gentry Spears, Chase Lockhart Spears, Chance "Hoot" McKeever, Olin Gentry, and Angela Gentry.

Visitation has been scheduled for Nov. 2 at Milwards Funeral Home at 159 N. Broadway in downtown Lexington. A funeral mass will be held Nov. 3 at 10 a.m. at St. Paul Catholic Church on Short Street. The burial will be private and for immediate family only.