Trainer Tom Howard, best known for developing multiple stakes-winning sprinter Ivan Fallunovalot, died from complications of cancer Saturday night at his Hot Springs home. He was 70.
Howard was diagnosed with liver cancer earlier this year and died just hours after Ivan Fallunovalot, a former claimer owned by longtime client Lewis Mathews, finished third in Oaklawn's $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes to increase his career earnings to $998,903.
Mathews said Howard had hoped to watch the Hot Springs from a golf cart parked on the south grandstand apron (he did that for the $125,000 King Cotton Stakes Feb. 3), but his body was too weak following a recent round of chemotherapy.
“He had been struggling the last few weeks,” said Mathews, a Bismarck, Ark., businessman who had horses with Howard for 14 years. “He was just living for Ivan's next race, and Ivan has been such a storybook story. I was really concerned that after the race, regardless of how it turned out … I didn't know if it would be the same day. It was not totally unexpected. Unfortunate, but not totally unexpected.”
A former assistant under six-time Oaklawn training champion Cole Norman, Howard had 148 victories from 1,122 starters and purse earnings of $3,848,116 since 2003, according to Equibase, racing's official data gathering organization.
In addition to Ivan Fallunovalot, an 8-year-old gelded son of Valid Expectations, Howard's best horses included Grade 3 winner and Oaklawn-raced Rocket Twentyone for prominent Arkansas businessman Frank Fletcher and Oaklawn stakes winners Heart Appeal, Stormin Suzy and Ain't He a Pistol.
Rocket Twentyone captured the $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (G3) in 2011 at Arlington Park before running in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) in her next start.
Howard's wife, Kathy, a former jockey, is Fletcher's racing manager.
“He trained for me for many years,” Fletcher said. “I loved him as a man and a trainer.”
The Mathews-owned Ain't He a Pistol won the inaugural Nodouble Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-bred sprinters at the 2009 Oaklawn meeting. Howard and Mathews also teamed to win two races at the 2009 Oaklawn meeting with the popular Commander Buck. The gelding recorded his biggest career victory in the $75,000 Independence Handicap in 2006 at Louisiana Downs.
“We had 14 years, had a good run,” Mathews said. “I grew up around horses and I've said he was the finest caretaker of horses I've ever seen. To me, he was the throwback to the old gentlemen trainers of 50, 60 years ago. He was laid back, low key. You had to push him a little bit, but I trusted him completely. It was a great partnership.”
On behalf of Mathews, Howard claimed Ivan Fallunovalot for $25,000 in March 2014 at Oaklawn. The Texas-bred gelding flourished under Howard's care, winning Oaklawn's King Cotton Stakes in 2015 and 2016, the $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) in 2016 at Laurel and the last four runnings of the David M. Vance Sprint Stakes at Remington Park.
Ivan Fallunovalot also ran ninth in the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) in 2015, when he was named the Texas Thoroughbred Association's Horse of the Year.
According to the TTA, the state's official breed registry for Thoroughbreds, 1987 sprint champion Groovy ($1,346,956) and Texas Chrome ($1,033,262) are the only Texas-bred millionaires.
Ivan Fallunovalot (17 of 31 in his career) could have reached seven figures by finishing first or second in the Hot Springs. He ran second in his first two starts this year, a Jan. 14 allowance/optional claimer and the King Cotton.
“I'm sick about him passing away, but he was living for that race yesterday,” Fletcher said. “I think it broke his heart when Ivan didn't win.”
Trainer John L. Hall had been saddling Howard's horses in his absence the last few weeks.
Howard's father, Sam, bred and owned Moon Lark, winner of the prestigious All-American Futurity for Quarter Horses in 1978.
Funeral arrangements were pending Sunday morning.
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