07/17/2014 12:43PM

Hovdey: Tom's Tribute gets headlining role

Benoit & Associates
Tom's Tribute put it all together winning the Thunder Road at Santa Anita, equaling Wise Dan's one-mile course record.

It is no big deal for a horse named for one guy to win a race named for another.

Dr. Fager, named for the neurosurgeon who saved trainer John Nerud’s life, turned the trick in both the 1968 running of the Whitney, named for the legendary racing family, and the Vosburgh, named for the legendary racing secretary who would have thought the 139 pounds Dr. Fager carried that day was maybe a little bit light.

Mister Gus, who was bred by Gustave Ring, for whom the Ring Auditorium in Washington, D.C., is named, was owned by Mary Elizabeth Lunn’s Llangollen Farm when he upset Nashua in the 1956 Woodward, a race named for another prominent racing family. Nashua had been owned by William Woodward Jr. until Woodward was mistaken for a burglar and shot dead by his wife in October 1955. Lunn had been married to John Hay “Jock” Whitney before being married to Dr. Cooper Pearson and then to Richard Lunn, who was followed by Col. Cloyce Tippett. There was never a race named for Mary Elizabeth Altemus Whitney Pearson Lunn Tippett, which is understandable. To save time, everyone called her Liz.

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Although the history isn’t quite as ripe, a version of the name game could happen this weekend at Del Mar when the track’s pioneering public-relations executive is honored once again in the $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes on Sunday at 1 1/8 miles on grass.

For many years, the Read served as a launch point for West Coast runners intent on winning the Arlington Million. That was when good older horses could run back in two or three weeks without their owners and trainers suffering mental breakdowns. The Read’s position on the calendar harvested good horses and gave it eventual Grade 1 status, which it continues to enjoy, even though the race has become more isolated in terms of national significance.

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Tom’s Tribute, a chestnut 4-year-old, is named for the late Tom Braly, a former newspaperman and insurance executive whose passion was Thoroughbred racing. Braly lived and breathed the game, especially through his later years spent battling cancer. He died at age 72 in September 2010, less than two weeks after his filly, Evening Jewel, won a memorable running of the Del Mar Oaks.

At the time, the son of Lion Heart who would someday be named for Braly was a young colt at the side of his dam, Halloween Fun, in a Kentucky pasture. In 2011, Halloween Fun’s colt sold for $60,000 as a yearling, then in March 2012, the price went up to $310,000 as a 2-year-old when he went through the ring in Ocala, Fla. The buyer was Marilyn Braly, Tom’s widow, who was represented by agent Gary Young.

“Marilyn called me a couple of weeks afterwards and told me she’d always wanted to name a horse after Tom and asked whether or not I thought this was a horse to take a chance on doing that,” Young said. “I told her I couldn’t like the horse any more than I did.”

As a racehorse for trainer Jim Cassidy, Tom’s Tribute has developed a reputation as a stalwart supporting player in a very deep West Coast division of middle-distance turf horses. He has faced the likes of Obviously, Winning Prize, Suggestive Boy, Silentio, and Summer Front without embarrassment but with only a second in the Arcadia and a third in the Shoemaker Mile this year to show for his considerable efforts in major stakes. Cassidy was asked if a horse can get discouraged. Or a trainer.

“With him, I think it’s been more a case of learning his job, and I think he has,” Cassidy said at his Del Mar office this week. “As far as getting discouraged, I think it’s all about the company. I had a filly several years ago, a maiden who kept finishing second, third, second, third. One time, some horse went down in front of her. She jumped and ran second.

“Finally, I said, ‘Screw it,’ and ran her against winners for $62,500,” Cassidy said. “She won easy, which if nothing else gives you an idea of how tough straight maiden races can be.”

Last March, Tom’s Tribute ran what has been his only dull race in the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. Cassidy took a page from his playbook and brought the colt right back a month later in the ungraded Thunder Road over the same ground against lesser animals. In gratitude, Tom’s Tribute went out and equaled Wise Dan’s one-mile course record, shading 1:32 for the mile.

That effort, plus whatever kind of furlong you want to tack on at the end, should be enough to win this version of the Eddie Read. The race has a sparkling history, replete with winners like Acclamation, After Market, Sweet Return, Redattore, and Fastness over the past 20 years. But of the usual, high-ranking suspects in the current middle-distance mix, only Summer Front from the Christophe Clement stable will show up for this one.

“Clement’s horse is tough,” Cassidy said. “There’s always a tough one.”

The trainer then led his visitor outside, where Tom’s Tribute was waltzing around the tow ring. He stopped, letting Cassidy have an admiring look.

“What do you think, boy?” Cassidy said. “Finally your turn?”