“Truthful” Tom Gentry

Y’all could probably use a little break from numbers and statistics about now. So today I am gonna tell you a little story about “Truthful” Tom Gentry.

Tom Gentry was the breeder of colt by the name of Pancho Villa, among many other stakes winners. Sold as a yearling for $1,800,000, Pancho Villa was on the Kentucky Derby trail early in 1985. But he was basically a sprinter/miler and did not even make it to the Derby.

Pancho Villa came back to the races on Saturday, June 29, of that year and won the Silver Screen Handicap (G2) at Hollywood Park, running a one-turn mile in 1:33 1/5.

I trotted into work the following Monday, July 1, about noon or so. I was working a later shift because I was producing a daily newsletter and did not finish for the day until eight or nine or so.

At work I saw an advertisement for Pancho Villa in the Midwest edition of the Daily Racing Form. This ad claimed that Pancho Villa had just run “the fastest mile by a three-year-old since Swaps in 1955.” Swaps had also run a mile at Hollywood Park in 1:33 1/5 as a three-year-old in 1955.

My buddy Rock Sand came over, and we got a chuckle or two over that advertisement. We both knew it was a total crock of shit. Buckpasser had run a mile in 1:32 3/5 (then the world record) in winning the 1966 Arlington Classic Handicap as a three-year-old at Arlington Park. Conquistador Cielo had also run a mile in 1:33 in winning the 1982 Metropolitan Handicap as a three-year-old at Belmont Park.

Pancho Villa was a son of Secretariat (or His Chestnut Perfection, if you prefer). I had been blowing Rock Sand shit about Pancho Villa all spring. He liked Pancho Villa and Chief’s Crown (out of a Secretariat mare) that spring. I liked Spend a Buck (take a guess why) and Proud Truth. So I blew him some more shit about Pancho Villa that day.

Now here is where my memory gets murky. The way I remember this story is that Rock Sand found this ad first and brought it to my attention and goaded me into calling up Tom Gentry to correct his errors. Rock Sand remembers that I found the ad first and showed it to him and that I decided to call up Tom Gentry of my own volition.

Whichever, I did place a telephone call to Tom Gentry early that afternoon. I said, “Hello, this is DD at TR (the name of the rag at which I slaved). I saw your ad for Pancho Villa today. It is not exactly correct.”

And that is as far as I got. Gentry cussed a blue streak at me for several minutes and hung up. I don’t remember being particularly distressed about this phone call. It did not occur to me that I might possibly lose my job over it. I had tried to be polite to the guy. He was the one who cussed at me. I just figgered that Tom Gentry was a total lying sack of shit. What else is new in the Thoroughbred industry????? And I went about my business the rest of the day.

I liked to listen to Ercel Ellis’s radio program “Post Time” at 6:45 every day at work. I did so not to check up on my own parimutuel investments. Rather, to pick up on the latest results (this was before the computer age). On a typical Monday I was listening mainly for maiden winners, which I included in my newsletter.

Shortly after Ercel that evening I received a visit from my boss, the editor of the rag, whom I shall call TTTC. “Did you call up Tom Gentry earlier today?” TTTC asked me. I affirmed that I had and related a synopsis of the brief conversation.

TTTC proceeded to tell me a story, as was his wont. Gentry came to our business offices late that afternoon or early that evening. Gentry was NOT in a good mood. He accosted TTTC in his office and poured forth his complaint.

TTTC handled it extremely well. First of all he pointed out that the ad WAS incorrect. He resorted to physical evidence to do so. Probably he pulled out a copy of the American Racing Manual and showed Gentry a list of the fastest miles in American Turf history. Then he pointed to the ad in question. The evidence was obvious.

According to TTTC, Gentry then claimed that the ad was supposed to carry the disclaimer “on the West Coast,” which would have made it correct. Perhaps it did run correctly in the Western edition of the DRF (my memory is murky on this point). That point was immaterial anyway. All we had at that point was the Midwest edition of the DRF. The Western editions came via mail a few days later. The Midwest edition did NOT have any disclaimer “on the West Coast.” Case closed.

So Gentry departed, little mollified. And TTTC came to see me. TTTC was probably intending to chew me out for stirring up this hornet’s nest in the first place. But I could tell that he was more amused than angry over the incident. TTC did admonish me somewhat, instructing me that should a similar situation arise in the future, I should tell him about it, not take action on my own, and the situation would be dealt with through “proper channels.” I gave him my assurance that I would heed this advice (and I did).

Some other boss might very well have fired me over this incident. I was probably lucky that TTTC did not do so. TTTC had his foibles, but overall he was a pretty good boss.

I am still not sure about Gentry though, whether he knew this ad was incorrect and ran it anyway; or it was a simple mistake in the Midwest edition; or he was so stupid that he did not even know the ad was incorrect and would not have cared if he did know. All I know for sure is that Gentry did NOT apologize to me (and vice versa). So that is how he earned the moniker “Truthful” Tom Gentry.

I have been thinking about this story and that name (which is like in the old gangster movies, where the BIG guy is always called “Tiny”) and have been trying to come up with similar names for more contemporary figures.

For example, here is wishing a speedy recovery to “Modest” Bob Baffert. Another example might be “Superego” Steve Asmussen. And I still like Dicky “Foregone Conclusion” Dutrow.  I think I like that one best of all. I like it even better than “Truthful” Tom Gentry.

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