Tommy Smith – Brough Scott

Tommy Smith died in the week before Cheltenham. The world knows him for winning the 1965 Grand National on Jay Trump. So should I because I rode in the race but ended up in Walton Hospital. But there is a much later memory from last autumn. Tommy had been a quadriplegic since 2001 but was dressed and groomed and magnificent. Courage can be the greatest thing.
It is also very different things; courage at the gallop and courage in the cripple’s bed. Tommy Smith took the challenge of both of them and even though I have clear recollection of his cool eyed composure in the weighing room and his high tilted chin at the National start, none of it bettered the privilege of being a guest at his home in rural Baltimore and having him raised and immaculate in his special chair to grace us with his presence. He was just short of his 75th birthday. He was quite a guy.
Quite a rider too. Five times he won the Maryland Hunt Cup over timber rails so high and so solid that any first time visitor standing beside them unwittingly hears themselves echoing John McEnroe’s infamous Wimbledon rant of “you cannot be serious.” To win that on any horse would be achievement enough but to do it, as Tommy did on the last three occasions, on a $2,000 dollar flat-race throw out who was described as both useless and a rogue, takes horsemanship of the highest dimension. And plenty of courage as well.
Jay Trump had failed to win in eight races at the deadbeat Shenandoah Racetrack in Charlestown, Virginia. The most dramatic thing he was known to have done was to have thrown himself over the inside rail when an angry exercise rider hit him over the right eye. The subsequent 29 stitch injury left a lump on his knee which saw him rejected by Alice de Pont Mills when offered in the summer of 1960 and taken on by Tommy’s godmother Mary Stephenson instead. It was the best decision she ever made and Horse and Hound readers will be thrilled to recall that foxhunting, with Baltimore’s Green Valley pack, was an essential part of Jay Trump’s transformation from nappy flat racer to bold and brilliant steeplechaser.
People talk of courage as a gift but it can be built and broken too. How sure must Tommy’s have been as he nursed Jay Trump around the hunting field in the winters of ’60 and ’61 that the pair of them could win first time out in a little race at the Maryland Grand National Meeting in April 1962.  A year later they were back to break the track record in the Maryland Hunt Cup itself and when they won a second time, Tommy’s fourth, in 1964 the plan to double up at Aintree was hatched and took them to immortality.
For most people the story ended there but a year later  horse and rider were back to win a third Maryland Hunt Cup before both quit the track forever. Jay Trump went into much honoured retirement but Tommy’s nature was unlikely to opt for an easy route. For a couple of years he sailed a yacht down to the Virgin Islands. He returned to work in the health care business in Minnesota and Boston before, in 1995, the lure of the Maryland Horse Country drew him and his devoted wife Frances home again.
Only in the worst nightmare could one have imagined how far that devotion would have to stretch after a young horse backed off and flipped over on Tommy that fateful morning in 2001. But when I stayed there last autumn Frances was just as friendly as she had been all that time ago in Lambourn. Tommy might have needed twenty four hour care but his mind still had total recall and a droll way of remembering. There were pictures of the yacht as well as of Jay Trump and the others. He was down but from some final store of courage, he was not ready to be out.
Courage is the acceptance not the terror of the risks ahead. For the last twelve years not being able to breath was Tommy’s biggest risk. Now he breathes no more. But his memory should.

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