Tom Rolfe, 1965

Charles Hatton describes 1965 champion 3-year-old Tom Rolfe from the 1966 American Racing Manual.


Odd as it may seem, Tom Rolfe lacked three votes of being the unanimous choice as 1965’s three-year-old champion and only one of tying Roman Brother for Horse of the Year honors. The inference is that leading the season’s classic colts took more doing. At any rate, it was never to be questioned Tom Rolfe was a three-year-old of the first order, one of the sort who might readily enough make his presence felt in any season.

His breeding and handling all were oriented toward the classics. Ambassador to Ireland Raymond Guest bred him from a mating of his fast Roman filly, Pocahontas, with the unbeaten Italian immigrant Ribot. “On the small side” physically, he was nevertheless brought along slowly in 10 races at two, winning three while learning to conserve his energies early and accelerate at the finishes.

He proved a dutiful subject and trainer Frank Whiteley Jr. was gratified when he emerged from winter quarters at three to win nine of 12 starts and $444,901 in competition with horses of the highest quality.

Sixth in France’s Arc de Triomphe

After his resolute little colt had won the Preakness and Mid-America Triple here, Ambassador Guest was captivated by the adventurous idea of sending him to France for the Arc de Triomphe. The colt did well to finish sixth behind Sea-Bird, considering he had no previous experience racing on grass; developed a pus pocket in one hoof on the eve of flying to Longchamp; wore strange new plates; and was ridden by an American rider.

Full of integrity, Tom Rolfe ran well up to the last quarter of that undulating 12 furlongs, but one felt he would so much rather have been back on the firm going in the States, where he set a ten furlongs course mark of 2:00 3/5 in the American Derby at Arlington Park.

All the racing world hailed Ambassador Guest’s sporting gesture in having his American Derby winner oppose the Epsom, French and Irish Derby winners in the “Arc.”

Wins at Sprint and Route Distances

Tom Rolfe is a versatile horse, winning from 7 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles at three, and scoring a near miss when Hail to All came along with a wet sail and beat him a thrusting neck for the mile and a half Belmont, after his rider unwisely moved a half mile from home.

Trainer Whiteley theorizes it was the conformation and topography of Longchamp rather than the route that defeated his charge in Paris, as he did not act well running downhill to the right turning for home.

The Guest colt is a charming specimen physically, a true bay like his illustrious sire, neither having any conspicuous markings. He is a hard type, all bone, sinew and animation. He can be a it of a puller, sometimes tying up Shoemaker’s arm muscles, and was always more than willing. Like many other short coupled, pony built individuals, Tom Rolfe is clever and always “in cadence” as the French say. His action is collected and he seems almost double jointed.

Tom Rolfe stands 15.2 hands at the withers. Ribot is about 15.3 and the Guest performer comes of a family which has evoluted along economical lines, recalling Pocahontas, How and others. Again, his maternal grandsire, Roman, was of moderate size and the crack horse all over.

All things else being equal, a good big horse can beat a good little horse, but the good little horses often wear better. Conformation and disposition are the key factors. American Eclipse went unbeaten in the four-mile heat days and was never quite 15.2, while his adversary Sir Henry was below 15 hands.

Conversely that great mare Prioress, the American-bred daughter of Sovereign and Reel who in 1857 won a run-off of a triple dead heat for England’s Cesarewitch, was all of 16 hands. Some of Prioress’ rivals were so exhausted after the race itself that it was tedious removing them from the course, but Richard Ten Broeck’s filly ran away with George Fordham the first half-mile of the run-off.

There is an old wheeze, “They run in all shapes and sizes.” The late epigrammatical J. E. Madden amended this to say: “Some run faster than others.”

Conformation Similar to Roman Brother

When in fit racing condition, Tom Rolfe tips the beam at much less than the norm of 1,000 pounds. He is made strikingly like Roman Brother. His head has the little prominence between the eyes, which is the seat of the brain pan, that horsemen like. He has a good eye, at neat ear and strong, flat jowls.

One of his salient attributes is his deep, well laid shoulder with its broad scapula, articulated by long, staying muscles. His pasterns are long and springy, at the approved 45 degrees angle, and the near fore incidentally is white. He has flat bone, a good middle and loin, the latter extending into a pelvis of fair length. His quarters are smooth and, in fine, if one were required to criticize him, this would be difficult, except to say that his cannons are a bit long and his hocks behind him.

Sam Riddle used to say it was what was in Man o’ War’s head that proved the most telling factor when he went to the races. He was excitable, but smart as horses go. Tom Rolfe may be said to have something in common with him in that he is also very keen. One has only to approach him with the tack and he knickers and is restive, which is his way of being agreeable. That he is a good doer he announces by squealing impatiently if his feeding time is delayed even a few minutes.

It is to his everlasting credit he does his utmost sans blinkers, giving speed on demand and trying to stare down every horse who resists him. He runs straight, true and hard confronted with any set of circumstances.

We do not suppose there is any necessity of introducing his sire Ribot as a St. Simon line stallion with a cross of the American-bred Tracery. He has set a seal as a progenitor of classicists on both sides of the Atlantic. Tom Rolfe, Molvedo, Ragusa, Graustark, Sir Ribot and numerous others have projected the fame he earned in racing to The Stud Book. Presumably you know he won two Arcs, sired two winners of that race, and also won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, winning the latter race on his nerve when he could gain no traction in the soft going.

Foaled Two Stakes Winners in a Row

Pocahontas won a little stakes at two and, bred to Bold Ruler, produced a smart sprinter n Chieftain before foaling our subject Tom Rolfe. She was a quick filly in training but was out of a far better mare in How, The daughter of Princequillo and The Squaw II, by Sickle, who won a Coaching Club American Oaks and Kentucky Oaks after running in a claimer at two in despair of her small, sparse frame.

The Squaw II we recall as a grand looking, deep-bodied bay mare who raced with distinction under J. E. Widener’s red and white “barber pole” stripes in France and Germany. She also produced Cherokee Rose II, who emulated her sister in winning a CCA Oaks. The next dam was Minnewaska, by Blandford, a matriarch of Widener’s French stud who was retired from production at Elmendorf, where she was the cynosure of all eyes.

Tom Rolfe’s pedigree is an amalgam of sprinting and staying strains, assembled from all about Europe, the British Isles and the United States. He combines both these virtues in a remarkable degree, for usually when one breeds a stayer to a sprinter he finds the result has the speed of the stayer and the stamina of the sprinter.

It rarely happens that compensatory breeding turns out so well as in Tom Rolfe’s instance.


I must confess that I was not exactly a fan of Tom Rolfe in 1965. The lack of a disqualification in the 1965 Preakness had something to do with that. I was more partial to Dapper Dan.

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2 Responses to Tom Rolfe, 1965

  1. Lesley Bowen says:

    Thank you for this memory of Tom Rolfe. I happen to like this colt who later sired Hoist the Flag.

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