‘Unrelenting Positive Force For Racing,’ Former Jockey Tommy Wolski Dies

by | 01.21.2020 | 8:45am
Tommy Wolski, second from left, with other retired jockeys Chris Loseth, Mark Patzer, Dave Wilson, Frank Fuentes and Chad Hoverson

One of the most recognizable and popular personalities known to the horse racing industry in British Columbia passed away Monday in a Naples, Fla., hospital.

Tom Wolski, an honored member of the BC Horse Racing Hall of Fame, was visiting family in Florida when he suffered a massive heart attack and underwent major bypass surgery.  He was in a medically-induced coma this past weekend and was listed in critical condition. The family advises he will be cremated and laid to rest with his mother in Florida.

Tommy, as he was known to his legion of friends and fans, finished his career as a jockey with more than 500 wins at various tracks throughout North America and was a main attraction at Hastings Racecourse during the 1970s and 1980s.  When he hung up his tack for a final time, he became well-known in the Vancouver media for more than 30 years as a horse racing columnist in The Province newspaper and a radio show host on CJOR, along with his weekly television show on Shaw and CityTV, The Sport of Kings.

“Tommy was an absolutely unrelenting positive force for racing,” said David Milburn, president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of BC (HBPA).  “He got along well with everyone and had nothing negative to say, always looking for the best in everything and everyone.”

Former BC Attorney General Wally Oppal, a friend of 30 years, said: “Tommy didn't have a mean bone in his body.  He was a guy everybody instantly loved because of his effervescent personality. We spent a lot of time together at Puccini's Italian Restaurant on Main Street back in the day when it was a meeting place for media and sports personalities.  Everyone gravitated to him.” Puccini's, now part of Vancouver history, was owned by the Teti brothers, John and Ronnie, who became life-long friends of Wolski.

When he was inducted into the BC Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2014, Wolski told Daily Racing Form correspondent Randy Goulding: “I've always wanted to bring the people in the backstretch closer to racing fans.  It's a different world back there and people find it fascinating.”

It was that same fascination that drew Wolski to the sport when he saw his first race at the age of 10 at Suffolk Downs in his native Boston, Mass. Four years later he was a hotwalker, then groom and eventually began galloping horses for trainer O.L. Foster.  After leaving home and having dropped out of school, he was literally sleeping in the barns.

“Mr. Foster asked me my shoe size, looked me up and down and said, 'Yep, I'll put you to work' and gave me my first job. I rode my first race at Lincoln Downs in Rhode Island and lost in a photo finish.”

In later years, Wolski related the racing business was different when he was a teenager and apprentice jockeys could have their contracts sold to another trainer.

Sold, or in Wolski's case, have his name thrown into a poker pot to make up for a trainer's shortage of betting funds. “That's how I wound up in Rhode Island,” Wolski revealed years later.   “My trainer lost me in a poker game.”

Wolski wrote his 'Hoss Talk' column in The Province for more than 30 years and enjoyed hosting his television show from 2002 thru 2010.  “He was small in stature but had a huge influence on people,” says his producer at the time, Howard Jones. “Once you met Tom Wolski, you never forgot him.”

He will long be remembered and revered by his racing family, with plans underway for a deserving celebration of life once the 2020 thoroughbred season gets underway in April at Hastings Racecourse.

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