Trainer Tom Howard, best known for developing multiple stakes winner Ivan Fallunovalot, died from complications of cancer March 10 at his Hot Springs, Ark., home, according to the Oaklawn Park publicity department. He was 70.
Howard was diagnosed with liver cancer earlier this year and died just hours after Ivan Fallunovalot, a former claimer owned by longtime client Lewis Mathews, finished third in Oaklawn's Hot Springs Stakes to increase his career earnings to $998,903.
Mathews said Howard had hoped to watch the Hot Springs from a golf cart parked on the south grandstand apron (he did that for the King Cotton Stakes Feb. 3), but his body was too weak following a recent round of chemotherapy.
"He had been struggling the last few weeks," said Mathews, a Bismarck, Ark., businessman who had horses with Howard for 14 years. "He was just living for Ivan's next race, and Ivan has been such a storybook story. I was really concerned after the race, regardless of how it turned out. ... I didn't know if it would be the same day. It was not totally unexpected. Unfortunate, but not totally unexpected."
A former assistant under six-time Oaklawn training champion Cole Norman, Howard had 148 victories from 1,122 starters and purse earnings of $3,848,116 since 2003, according to Equibase.
In addition to Ivan Fallunovalot, Howard's best horses included grade 3 winner Rocket Twentyone for prominent Arkansas businessman Frank Fletcher and stakes winners Heart Appeal, Stormin Suzy, and Ain't He a Pistol.
Howard's wife, Kathy, a former jockey, is Fletcher's racing manager.
"He trained for me for many years," Fletcher said. "I loved him as a man and a trainer."
On behalf of Mathews, Howard claimed Ivan Fallunovalot for $25,000 in March of 2014 at Oaklawn. The Texas-bred gelding flourished under Howard's care. He won Oaklawn's King Cotton Stakes in 2015 and 2016, the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) in 2016 at Laurel Park and the last four runnings of the David M. Vance Sprint Stakes at Remington Park.
"We had 14 years—had a good run," Mathews said. "I grew up around horses and I've said he was the finest caretaker of horses I've ever seen. To me he was the throwback to the old gentlemen trainers of 50, 60 years ago. He was laid back—low key. You had to push him a little bit, but I trusted him completely. It was a great partnership."
Ivan Fallunovalot also ran ninth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) in 2015, when he was named the Texas Thoroughbred Association's Horse of the Year.
Ivan Fallunovalot, who has won 17 of his 31 starts, could have reached seven figures with a first- or second-place finish in the Hot Springs. He ran second in his first two starts this year, a Jan. 14 optional-claiming allowance and the King Cotton.
"I'm sick about him passing away, but he was living for that race yesterday," Fletcher said. "I think it broke his heart when Ivan didn't win."
Trainer John Hall had been saddling Howard's horses in his absence the last few weeks.
Funeral arrangements were pending Sunday morning.