05/05/2005 12:00AM

Ted Atkinson dies at 88


Theodore "Ted" Atkinson, the Hall of Fame jockey who led the nation in wins and purse earnings in 1944 and 1946 and was known for his unflappable professionalism, died Thursday morning at his home in Beaver Dam, Va., after a long battle with prostate cancer and heart problems. Atkinson was 88.

Nicknamed by some "The Professor" for his intelligence and others "The Slasher" for his use of the whip, Atkinson was the first jockey to earn more than $1 million in purse earnings in one year, in 1946. He was the regular rider of Capot, who won the Preakness and Belmont in 1949, and was also the rider of Tom Fool, the 1953 Horse of the Year and 1951 juvenile champion.

Although Atkinson considered Tom Fool the greatest horse he rode, he also considered his win on War Relic against Triple Crown winner Whirlaway in the 1941 Narrang-ansett Special as one of his most memorable races. Whirlaway, owned by Calumet Farm, trained by Ben Jones, and ridden by Eddie Arcaro, was Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old that year.

Born in Toronto, Ontario, Atkinson did not begin riding until the age of 21. Over his 21-year career, he won 3,795 times with 23,661 mounts, earning $17,449,360. Half of his career was spent as the contract rider for the powerful Greentree Stable of the Whitney family. In addition to Tom Fool, Atkinson was the rider of two other Hall of Fame horses, Devil Diver and Gallorette.

In 1959, struggling with back injuries, Atkinson retired, two years after being inducted into the Hall of Fame and receiving the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, considered the top honor for a rider because it not only recognizes horsemanship, but a jockey's professionalism and contribution to racing.

"He never felt he had much natural ability," said Caton Bredar, Atkinson's granddaughter, who is a horse racing analyst. "He had to work very hard to be good. More than anything, it was his work ethic and discipline that made him a good rider."

After his retirement from riding, Atkinson worked in a variety of positions in racing offices, and was then appointed the state steward in Illinois, a position he held for more than 20 years.

After retiring in Illinois, Atkinson and his wife, Martha, moved to a log house they built in Beaver Dam, where Atkinson kept up regular correspondences with racing journalists, politicians, and fans, Bredar said.

Joe Palmer, the late racing journalist who was good friends with Atkinson, once wrote, "While he cannot come in ahead of the horse, he can be depended upon to get as much out of his mounts as heredity and the trainer have put in."

Atkinson is survived by his wife; a daughter, Cathie, and two sons, Mark and John; and three grandchildren.