Ted Atkinson, a Hall of Fame jockey who won 3,795 races, a chunk of them aboard Tom Fool, the 1953 horse of the year, died Thursday at his home in Beaver Dam, Va. Atkinson, who suffered from an undisclosed illness, was 88.
Besides his victories with Tom Fool, Atkinson also came within a race of winning the 1949 Triple Crown with Capot. After finishing second, beaten by three lengths, to Ponder in the Kentucky Derby, Capot and Atkinson, known as "the Slasher" because he used the whip freely, turned the tables on their rival by winning the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
Atkinson, whose career spanned 22 years, suffered a back injury in a spill and was forced to retire from riding in 1959. He rode in 23,661 races and was voted into the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1957.
He became a racing steward after his retirement, officiating at races at Illinois tracks for 16 years.
Atkinson said that his aggressive riding tactics didn't harm the horses because his whip was feathered at the end.
"There was no sting," he told the London Evening Standard in 1993. "I never hit a horse just to beat it out of him, but merely to impress on him the urgency of the situation. I can't ever recall leaving a welt, and I never had a trainer complain that I had abused his horse."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 07, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Preakness winner -- The obituary of jockey Ted Atkinson in Friday's California section said the racehorse Codex beat Genuine Risk in the 1981 Preakness. In fact, it was in the 1980 Preakness.
As a steward and expert witness, Atkinson returned to Pimlico, the Baltimore track where he'd won the Preakness with Capot, to testify at a state hearing into the outcome of the 1981 Preakness.
Codex had beaten Genuine Risk, the filly who had won the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, but Genuine Risk's owners, in appealing the Preakness outcome, contended that Codex and his jockey, Angel Cordero, had fouled their horse. The Maryland Racing Commission ruled that the Pimlico stewards were correct in allowing Codex's victory to stand.
Tom Fool, rated by Atkinson as the best horse he ever rode, ran in 30 races, posting 21 wins, seven seconds and one third, all with Atkinson on his back. In 1953, they swept New York's handicap triple: the Metropolitan, the Suburban and the Brooklyn.
When Atkinson retired, he ranked third in wins. Twice he led the country in both wins and purse money, in 1944 and 1946, and in 1946 he became the first jockey to ride horses that earned more than $1 million in a single year.
Other top horses ridden by Atkinson included Gallorette and Devil Diver. He won the 1952 Santa Anita Derby with Hill Gail and in 1941 rode War Relic as they upset Whirlaway, that year's Triple Crown champion, in the Narragansett Special.
In 1957, Santa Anita honored Atkinson by presenting him its George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, named in honor of the Hall of Fame jockey who died of injuries suffered at the Arcadia track. Atkinson rode mainly at Eastern tracks but in 1946 was Santa Anita's leading rider with 73 wins.
Atkinson was born in Toronto on June 17, 1916. He didn't intend to become a jockey, but a truck-driver friend told him he was the right size, and when he was 20, he landed a job working with yearlings on a farm.
Atkinson scored his first victory in 1938 at Beulah Park near Columbus, Ohio. For 12 years, he was the contract rider for the powerful Greentree Stable.
Survivors include his wife, Martha; three daughters; and three grandchildren, including Caton Bredar, a TV racing analyst.