Getting to Know Breeders’ Cup Classic Hopeful Tom’s d’Etat

Jockey Miguel Mena advised all doubters of Tom’s d’Etat’s ability to be quiet as the horse crossed the finish line a dominant winner of Stephen Foster Stakes on June 27. (Coady Photography)

Many of the top Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders through the years have come out of the Triple Crown races and proven themselves to be elite 1 ¼-mile racehorses either as 3-year-olds or sometimes not until they are 4 or 5. Others, like Tom’s d’Etat, require a little more patience.

Now 7 years old, the bay horse by leading sire Smart Strike had shown promise early in his career with several runaway victories, but in the last eight months Tom’s d’Etat has emerged as a truly elite older male.

Race Résumé

Unplaced in his career debut in a one-mile turf race, Tom’s d’Etat has raced exclusively on dirt since that inauspicious start and has finished in the top three in 14 of 17 subsequent races.

He earned his first win by four lengths in August 2016 at Saratoga but did not race again for 7 ½ months when he won again by 3 ¾ lengths March 20, 2017 at Fair Grounds. After a fourth at Churchill Downs in May of that year, he paired allowance wins by 2 ¼ lengths and nine lengths before another extended break. This time, he did not return to the races for more than 15 months.

The flashes of brilliance continued upon his return, however, as he won a November 2018 allowance-optional claiming race at Churchill Downs and followed with a 3 ¼-length victory in the Tenacious Stakes in December at Fair Grounds in his stakes debut.

After a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes, Tom’s d’Etat again went to the sidelines for a few months, but since then he has strung together eight quality races in the last 14 months for trainer Al Stall Jr.

Included in the stretch were back-to-back wins to close his 6-year-old campaign in the Grade 2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes at Keeneland in October by 4 ¼ lengths for his first graded stakes score and a breakthrough Grade 1 win in the 2019 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare in November at Churchill Downs.

Tom’s d’Etat’s powerful 3 ¼-length runaway in the Clark proved he could duplicate a top effort against strong competition. While he had shown he was capable of putting up big speed figures earlier in his career, the 116 Equibase Speed Figure he earned for the Fayette and 113 for the Clark were promising, as were the 105 and 104 Beyer Speed Figures he earned for those races respectively.

The success has continued in 2020 as Tom’s d’Etat won the Oaklawn Mile Stakes at Oaklawn Park with an explosive late rally on April 11 in his season debut and then romped by 4 ¼ lengths in the prestigious Stephen Foster Stakes June 27 at Churchill to extend his stakes winning streak to four.

“It was just an unbelievable day on Saturday,” Stall said. “To draw off like that, and almost break the track record, was unreal. He ran a sub 36-second final three-eighths. You don’t see many route horses in the country that are able to do that, especially as geared down as he was in the final stages.”

Indeed, Tom’s d’Etat ran a heck of a race that looked as good on the screen as it did on paper with a 109 Beyer Speed Figure, 116 Equibase Speed Figure, 112 BrisNet rating, and eye-catching 129 TimeForm US speed rating. Those are serious racehorse speed figures.

“I think the most important thing is he’s had the chance to get in form by being in steady training for about 18 months and get a bunch of races strung together,” Stall said after the Stephen Foster victory. “He enjoyed his freshening at the Fair Grounds this winter, and he couldn’t have done any better. Oaklawn couldn’t have been any better, so I feel like we’re in good shape going forward into the rest of this year. He’s in pretty good shape, and this race is only the second race back.”

Tom’s d’Etat is versatile enough to press the pace, stalk the pace, or close from farther back depending upon the circumstances as we’ve seen in just his two starts this year for Gayle Benson’s G M B Racing. Benson is the principal owner of the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA.

In the Oaklawn Mile, the pace was swift through a half-mile in :46.09 and Tom’s d’Etat was more than seven lengths back at that juncture, but he had plenty of late punch to reel in Grade 1 winner Improbable late. In the Stephen Foster, Tom’s d’Etat raced within a length of an easy half-mile in :48.13 and just powered clear in the stretch with a final eighth of a mile in 12 seconds flat to live up to his 13-10 favoritism. A final furlong that fast rarely occurs in two-turn dirt races like the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster, and runner-up By My Standards was coming off a strong win in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap.

At Oaklawn in April. (Coady Photography)

“He’s a great athlete. If he needs to be close, he breaks running, and if the pace is fast, he can back off and listen to the rider,” Stall said. “He’s a smart horse, he’s an athletic horse, and he’s what a Grade 1 horse is supposed to be.”

The only question Tom’s d’Etat still needs to answer is whether he can deliver an elite race at 1 ¼ miles, a distance he has not competed at since the second race of his career. I’m not especially concerned about that given he has won six of nine starts at 1 1/8 miles and seemed to have plenty of gas in the tank late in the Stephen Foster.

It seems rare to see a racehorse hitting his peak stride during his 7-year-old season in 2020, but such is the case with Tom’s d’Etat who looks like a rising star on the road to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.


Tom’s d’Etat is by two-time leading sire Smart Strike, whose offspring have thrived on turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces as evidenced by his 145 lifetime stakes winners and 73 group or graded stakes winners through June 29. Smart Strike is the sire of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin as well as 2007 champion turf male English Channel, two-time champion Lookin At Lucky, 2011 champion 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia, and Canadian Horse of the Year winners Soaring Free and Never Retreat.

Bred by SF Bloodstock, Tom’s d’Etat is out of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Julia Tuttle, by leading sire Giant’s Causeway. Julia Tuttle was a stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles and her dam (mother) – Tom’s d’Etat’s grandam (maternal grandmother) – Candy Cane is a full-sibling (same dam, same sire) to unbeaten and record-setting 2003 Pacific Classic Stakes winner Candy Ride, now a successful sire himself.

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