Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Grandpa.

Thornton W. Gatewood

(This essay about my Grandpa was written by my cousin, Paul D. Smith in March 2000. I’ve inserted a few notes.)

Thornton William Gatewood trained Thoroughbred race horses beginning about 1938 through 1969 after he left the farm in Decatur, Nebraska. He had been a farmer all his life and also a 4-H leader and breeder of Duroc hogs. He also raised and bred draft horses that he entered in horse pulls at county fairs. He was a baseball pitcher and a mentor for youth, including several nieces, nephews and grandchildren. The Depression was too harsh and he left the farm and began working at the race tracks. He worked for a couple of years for other trainers, usually in Chicago, Ohio and Florida.

The first horse he owned was Merry Bid. A lady owned the horse and gave him away saying, “If he ever wins a race, you can give me $100.” Merry Bid was a reclamation project as he had a bad cut on a front leg from running into a barbed wire fence. The horse recuperated at the farm of Thornton’s son, Jack Gatewood (Janell’s Dad) near Lyons, Nebraska. Merry Bid healed up and went on to win several races, some of them in Omaha at Ak-Sar-Ben and even in Canada.

Thornton was affectionately known as “Thornt” or “Tom” by people at the race tracks. One of the trainers who started training about the same time was M. H. Van Berg pf Columbus, Nebraska who went on to national fame. “Tom” owned and trained over 40 of his own horses and trained many for other clients. Jim and Min Pokorny of Omaha were clients for many years. Mr. Gatewood won over 170 races through the years and always had a small stable of 3 to 7 horses.

Among Thornt’s favorite horses was Extra Dividend, who was a black gelding he claimed in Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas about 1961. He went on to win 29 races for Thornt, racing and winning at age 12. (Note: Janell’s husband’s cousin, Gayland “Smitty” Smith rode Extra Dividend to a win for Grandpa at Fonner Park in Grand Island, Nebraska April 2, 1964. I have a wonderful picture of them all together in the Winner’s Circle, which I’ll try to get posted.) Another horse he claimed in 1953 at Oaklawn was Taos Cross, another black gelding who won 2 or 3 races every year in Omaha, St. Louis and Chicago, primarily. He was a front runner who liked to run one mile and 70 yards and usually was in front at least for a while. Other horses included Master Bird, Oklahoma Ted, Dark Search, Bonzar, Sirita’s Gal, Gracie Ann, Dark Powder, Jimmy Dee, Miss Woodchuck and her son, Splinter, Peggy’s Pic, Gramp’s Boots, Buzoots, Twelve Bells, Oil Prince, Kamalux, Hazlett, Batajax, Roble, Canpan, Hoss’s Pick, Red Mahoney, Don Rivers, Chet’s Column, Whirlango, Texas Beran, Beacon’s Beauty, and Bee Line Jet.

Horses that he trained for the Pokornys included Mr. Tops, Our Mistake, Glenbar, Sea Charm, Gentle Wind, and High Flame. He also trained for a Mr. Herbert Miller from Iowa and his horses included General Café, Busze, and Stormy Wan.

Thornt raced in at least 12 states and Canada, His travels took him and his constant companion, his wife, Agnes Connealy Gatewood, through 40 of the 50 states. Several of his grandsons helped out at the race track and at the home base near Lyons, Nebraska on the farm of his son-in-law and daughter John and Grace Smith (Paul D.’s parents) Some of the horses raced were born on the farm. John and Grace were partners with him in racing beginning when Taos Cross was claimed in 1953. They helped raise and board horses over the winter months.

Oldest son, Francis Gatewood, worked for Thornt at the race tracks after serving in World War II until 1949. Thornt’s daughter Kathryn and her husband Roland Nelson were also involved with horses and they traveled and raced together for a few years in the 40s. Harry Gatewood, Thornt’s brother, worked with him at the tracks for a time in the 40s and 50s. Some of the memorable tracks were in Omaha, Phoenix, Denver, Hot Springs, and St. Louis. His favorite place to run for the money was in Chicago. They also raced at the Nebraska tracks in Grand Island, Madison, Columbus, Lincoln and South Sioux City. Son Jack Gatewood also helped him at the tracks and at time wintered horses on his farm near Lyons.

Thornton Gatewood died in the early morning April 13, 1971 at the age of 83 at Evista, a retirement center in Lyons. He was buried on his 84th birthday. He and Agnes had celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary. What was he doing when he arose in the predawn hours of April 13th? He was getting ready to go to Grand Island to watch the horse Splinter run. He was the last horse raise on the farm and was being trained by grandson, James Thornton Smith. The horse finished 8th.


Sue said...

That really brings back a lot of memories. We got to go to Aksarben race track at least once a year when we were growing up. One of the highlights of growing up.

Mary Connealy said...

I love this, Janell. I'm going to print this up and show it to Marybelle.

Janell said...

Yes, Sue, trips to the race track were always a treat for me too. I remember more about At O Kad than Ak, tho.

Mary, thanks. I hope Marybelle enjoys reading it. Does she have any race track memories to share?

Shirley said...

I do love reading this now and then. I will say again as I have many times that I am the only grandchild who is not in a winner's circle photo.

But Connie and Joe have one up on me. They got engaged on a day when a horse won unexpectedly, and all anyone could talk about was that horse. No one was as excited for the happy couple. The horse stole the show.

Paul said...

Two things I like here. One, I enjoy stories/memoirs like this. Two, I have always loved the names of race horses. Nice job on both counts. Thanks.

Joe B said...

I agree with Paul, stories like these are great. It looks like a rich history.

I also love horses names.

Jamie Dawn said...

Oaklawn is less than ten minutes from my house!

Thanks for sharing.
I'm' with Paul on the fact that horse names are neato.

Janell said...

Shirley; I had not heard that about Joe & Connie's engagement before! What a hoot! But you know, nowadays somebody could probably photoshop you into one of those pictues. I'll never tell!

Paul and Joe - Yes, I love the names, too. I'll always wonder if Whirlango was related to Whirlaway, a 1940s Triple Crown Champion.

Jamie Dawn - That's good to know! Maybe hubby and I can make our way down your way someday. That would surely be a treat!

nora said...

Great story and history. Horse racing is foreign to me!
Thanks for sharing.