SPORTING Oz Horse Racing

Thomas John Smith
Australia Crest

Master racehorse trainer affectionately known simply as T J or the Little General.

Tommy SmithTommy Smith was born during World War I in Jembaicumbene near Braidwood and later brought up at Goolgowi, a hamlet on the wheat plains of south-western New South Wales, a place he couldn't get away from quick enough.

His early school-life could be compared to that of Huckleberry Finn but he worked as hard as any man from age seven, hauling logs with bullock and horse teams, clearing roads and land, riding in horse races on hopeless nags and trapping rabbits to supply the family with 'underground mutton'.

As a teenager in 1931 he left for Melbourne to be an apprentice jockey, eventually moving to Sydney where a serious fall shattered his right hip, leaving him with a limp for the rest of his days.

Smith was granted a trainer's licence in 1941 and the next year won his first race with a rejuvenated crock he found in a paddock, named Bragger, supposedly named after himself.

In 1939, whilst strapping some horses on a train from Wagga to Melbourne, he had met by chance an apprentice jockey called George Moore and this chance meeting was to change both of their lives. In Melbourne Tommy bragged to Moore and some fellow strappers that one day he would be the leading trainer and Moore would be the leading jockey - "I'll train the Derby winner and you'll ride it," he told a bemused George. Well, train and ride the Derby winner they did with the maiden galloper Playboy in the AJC Derby of 1949. Tommy Smith bet his horse at 100/1, with his winnings probably equating to about $3 million in today's money.

In the 1952-53 season he won his first training premiership, breaking a 4 year sequence of premierships won by Maurice McCarten. He went on to win the premiership for the next 32 years, a world record , finally relinquishing to the 'money can buy' power of the stables of Brian Mayfield-Smith for 3 years - 1986-88 before winning a 34th title in 1989.

Smith had a God gifted talent for looking at even the plainest looking and least regally bred horse and determining there and then if it could win races for him. He revolutionised training methods and believed in feeding his horses the best and working them the hardest. His horses were always turned out with the Smith 'bone and muscle' look.

Tommy Smith was also a very dapper dresser and was famous for the stylish hats he wore. He had a liking for his Rolls Royce and a taste for champagne and in his earlier years spent many evenings socialising in clubs with the rich and famous, always trying to bring them into a share in a horse.

Tommy Smith did all this when officialdom and 'the establishment' were living in a past era. He championed his own cause but the big and little wins he fought for eventually helped the lot of even the most battling horse trainer.

Smith travelled the world with his wife, Val, mixing with Royalty and Nobility and taking the opportunity to study the training methods of all the top trainers in America and Europe, then puting the best ideas into practice in Australia.

Some of the champion and great horses he trained were Tulloch, Kingston Town, Gunsynd, Redcraze, Red Anchor, Imagele and Bounding Away. He twice trained the winner of the Melbourne Cup - Toporoa in 1955 and Just A Dash in 1981. There were many, many more Group 1 winners, 279 to be exact, from 837 Metropolitan stakes winners.

Kingston Town winning Cox Plate
Kingston Town winning Cox Plate

After a long battle with 'the establishment' his daughter Gai Waterhouse finally received her licence to train racehorses and soon won the trainer's premiership in 1997. There was no prouder man than her father to see her receive just reward for all the hard work that is a trainer's lot.

In December, 1998, the Tommy Smith Medal was announced, some 3 months after his death. The medal will go to the premier trainer at the end of each racing season in Sydney. Won't the tears flow when Gai Waterhouse wins it.

Also, the AJC has renamed the prestigious race the Endeavour Stakes, run in the autumn over 1200 metres at WFA, as the Tommy Smith Stakes. Here's hoping the race will be soon upgraded to Group 1, as a tribute to T J and the number of Group 1 winners he trained.

Australia has lost a genius and one of it's best loved larrikins. Vale T J Smith.

There is a marvellous book on the life of TJ Smith-The Midas Man TJ by Kevin Perkins, published my MacMillan. Do yourself a favour and read it.

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