American conqueror of the English Grand National Crompton “Tommy” Smith died Tuesday at his home in Maryland at 74. Smith rode Thoroughbred Hall of Famer Jay Trump to three victories in the Maryland Hunt Cup and then became the first American jockey to win the famed English Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree in 1965.
Smith grew up in the horse world of Middleburg, Va. His family foxhunted. His grandfather, Harry Worcester Smith, was a renowned international foxhunter, race rider and author of sporting books. Smith’s father was a dairy farmer, who also foxhunted and rode steeplechases. Tommy foxhunted at 6 months, seated in a basket aboard a paint pony. He rode his first race in 1956, and won a hurdle race at Arlington Park in 1958. After numerous stops and starts in Virginia, Smith took a job with the Smithwick family at the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club in Maryland. Mikey and Paddy Smithwick both became Hall of Fame horsemen, Mikey as a trainer, Paddy as a jockey. The move changed Smith’s life. He learned how to ride timber races from Mikey Smithwick, soaked up all that knowledge and set himself on the road to history.
Smith won the 1959 Maryland Hunt Cup aboard Fluctuate for trainer Bobby Fenwick, defeating the more-seasoned Mikey Smithwick aboard Golden Fly and Laddie Murray aboard Mainstay. Smith added a second Hunt Cup score in 1961 with Simple Sampson.
Then along came Jay Trump, a real-life Cinderella story.
Smith found the horse at Charles Town, and made the $2,000 purchase on behalf of owner Mary Stephenson. With Fenwick (and later Smithwick) as trainer, Jay Trump became a timber-racing star in the United States – working his way up the ladder to the big races in Maryland. Jay Trump and Smith won the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1963 and 1964, took down the world’s greatest steeplechase at Aintree in 1965 while trained by English legend Fred Winter and returned to capture a third Hunt Cup in 1966.
Jay Trump’s Grand National feat drew worldwide acclaim with massive coverage in England, a spot in Sports Illustrated, and ceremonies at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, the Washington D.C. International Horse Show, Saratoga, River Downs and beyond.
After his third Hunt Cup victory, Jay Trump was retired to Stephenson’s farm near Cincinnati. He was inducted into Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame in 1971 and died in 1988 at 31. He is buried near the finish line of the steeplechase course at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Afterward, Smith (who attended Princeton University as a young man) briefly trained horses, but moved to Minnesota and later Massachusetts where he was the founder and CEO of two software companies in the healthcare field. Smith retired in 1995 and moved back to Maryland with his wife, Frances, returning to horses as a trainer. In 2001, an injury sustained in a riding accident left him paralyzed.
Smith is survived by his wife, a son William, a daughter Alexandra, a sister Kitty and two grandchildren. A memorial service is slated for 2 p.m. Friday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 232 St. Thomas Lane in Owings Mills, Md.
For more on Smith, see Baltimore Sun Obituary.