Tom’s d’Etat finished last season off as one of the nation's rising stars.
Generally, that kind of talk is reserved for hot young juveniles preparing for the Kentucky Derby trail, or late-developing 3-year-olds ready to make their mark on the handicap division. At 7 years old, Tom's d'Etat hardly fits the mold of your average up-and-comer, but the son of Smart Strike looks primed to scale the heights of American racing in 2020. His quest is expected to begin in Saturday's Oaklawn Mile at Oaklawn Park.
Off since late November, Tom's d'Etat will likely go favored in the $150,000 event, but it looks to be anything but easy. With Oaklawn Park one of only a few tracks left running, top horses could descend in droves to Hot Springs, Ark. This race isn't graded, but it has the feel of a Grade 2 or better field.
Among Tom's d'Etat's expected competition are two other high-profile returners in Improbable and Mr. Money. When last seen, the pair disappointed in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, although they were well liked enough to go off as the second and third choices, respectively.
So how did Tom's d'Etat, at this advanced age, become the top pick against horses well liked in the Breeders' Cup? Trained by Al Stall and owned by Gayle Benson’s GMB Racing, he has been a story of patience.
A $330,000 purchase a mere 5 1/2 years ago at the Keeneland sale comes into his seasonal debut off a pair of powerful graded stakes wins at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. The two open-length victories in the Fayette Stakes (G2) on Oct. 26 and the Clark Stakes (G1) on Nov. 29 represent his two biggest wins to date.
They also came in place of an attempt in the Breeders' Cup, further proof that his connections are more than willing to be patient with their veteran, yet still-emerging star.
Those left in Tom's d'Etat's wake include Mr Freeze, who has been one of America's top older males so far in 2020. Before his 6-year-old campaign, which included three stakes wins in seven starts, he had never before put together a full season of racing.
Always talented, the handsome bay did not race until 3 and broke his maiden impressively going nine furlongs at Saratoga in his third career start. But that win in August of 2016 was his final start of his first season. Brought back to the races in March of his 4-year-old season, Tom's d'Etat continued to look like a good one.
Patiently based by his New Orleans-based connections, Tom's d'Etat built upon his promise at 4 by winning of three of four allowance races at Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs, and Saratoga. The final came in a nine-length runaway at the Spa, which convinced his trainer that he was ready for graded stakes racing. The Woodward (G1) of 2017 was planned for his stakes debut. It was not to be.
While Gun Runner skipped to victory on his way to the Horse of the Year title, Tom's d'Etat was suffering from a small fracture after a workout. It was then more than a year off, which included surgery, before the promising horse returned to the races. He came back in style.
Reappearing in a Churchill Downs allowance on Nov. 4, 2018, Tom's d'Etat romped against good horses. An easy score in his stakes debut, the Tenacious Stakes at Fair Grounds, soon followed, and he was once again targeted for a Grade 1 race.
That came in the 2019 Pegasus World Cup (G1), and for the connections of the highly regarded 6-year-old, the result was forgettable. In only his third start after a near 16-month layoff, he struggled home over the Gulfstream Park slop, finishing ninth of 12 behind the impressive victory by City of Light.
After a brief freshening, Tom's d'Etat returned to finish second behind McKinzie in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) on Kentucky Derby weekend. Since then he has run consistently well against solid competition before finally breaking through with those two impressive victories in the Fayette and the Clark.
At the age of 7, it might finally be his time to shine, and he would not be alone as a top-notch 7-year-old. Zula Alpha, the turf star of the same age, has already proven to be one of America's best on the lawn with three strong races to begin his season. Now it's Tom's d'Etat's turn, and it starts against a strong field in Saturday's Oaklawn Mile.