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A QandA with Tom Foley: Jockey, Author, Actor...

Horse Racing Radar
Rich Bieglmeier
Rich Bieglmeier is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Friday, March 19, 2021

Tom Foley is this week's The Players' Edge Podcast Guest.

Tom Foley is a name in the horse racing world you might remember. He's been a successful jockey, winning many graded jumper races. He wrote a book. And we went through the wrong door and ended up in a movie. Today, you can say he's an advocate for jockeys, helping them get insurance for when they are injured. That way, jockeys can fully recover from injuries before heading to the track too early to collect checks.

Alright Tom, there are a lot of ways to go with this, but let's start at the beginning.

HRR: You came here at 17, about to turn 18 years-old, from Ireland. How did that happen?

Tom Foley: Yes, I came here as a 17-year-old. Answered an ad in an Irish paper and took a chance. Really didn't know what to expect but sometimes you have to just play the hand you have and see what happens.

HRR: Were you living by yourself, staying with family or on your own and what was that like in a new country, alone as a young man?

Tom Foley: I was living on a farm in Millwood, Virginia and had to figure out a lot on my own fast. America was definitely not like home. I didn't know anyone and really had nobody to call when things went wrong. Most of my family didn't even have a passport so when I did get hurt badly, I was on my own more or less. Looking back, I'd not want my kids in that position, but it definitely makes you tougher.

HRR: You had a lot of success, but at the same time doubts were starting to build, doubts that would eventually turn into the reasons you stepped away from being a jockey. Your moment of clarity, if you will, was the callous treatment of a horse named Laurel at Charles Town racetrack. The horse's knee blew out early in the race, yet Laurel managed to get you to the wire safely. Something you were grateful for. Laurel was whisked away to be euthanized and somebody said to you, "it's not that bad, we need to make room for better horses anyway."

Rather than relive that awful moment, let's fast forward to today. Recently, trainer Gordon Elliott was pictured sitting on a dead horse, talking on the phone, smiling and giving the peace sign. You are still around the game, would you say Elliott's actions are more of the same as you saw with Laurel or has the business of horse racing gotten better, if so or if not, why?

Tom Foley: I got very lucky riding over jumps and had some success. I was lucky to ride a lot for Bruce Miller Jonathan Sheppard and Jack Fisher mostly. Riding the best horses definitely makes it easier. I switched to the flat riding as it financially made more sense. But it was definitely a different world. I think the steeplechase world is slower and horses are brought on at their own pace, so it was definitely different in the turn over and speed department. There's not as much claiming in steeplechase.

Gordon, I believe, was caught at a bad time and sometimes the picture doesn't always tell the whole story. Was he wrong to be sitting on the poor animal of course but I think the caption and context were way out of line. I know him and that's definitely not a reflection on the care horses he's got there. It's sad and that we can obliterate someone so fast with social media. We let so much stuff slide and be considered normal but seem to be offended by everything. Makes you afraid to say anything these days.

HRR: Now to the fun stuff, you were in a movie, Secretariat with John Malkovich. What made you the most nervous, leaving for a new country, your first professional mount, or acting?

Tom Foley: John Malkovich was such a fantastic guy. Honestly the whole thing seemed so surreal I didn't overthink it and just rolled with it all. Almost akin to when I decided to come to America. Sometimes you have to take a shot and just go.


Catch up with Tom on his Facebook account at https://www.facebook.com/thomas.foley.56