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Ted F. Atkinson

Ted F. Atkinson
Induction Year: 
June 17, 1916, Toronto, Canada
May 5, 2005, Beaver Dam, Va.
Career Years: 
1939 - 1958
Number of Mounts: 
Number of Winners: 
Winning Percentage: 

Tab Wrapper


Ted Atkinson was raised in a household of eight children with no ties to racing, but he began to pursue the sport as a teenager after it was suggested to him while he worked in a chemical plant in Brooklyn, N.Y. The diminutive Atkinson, barely 100 pounds at the time, was loading trucks with 50-pound containers of bleach when a driver told him his physical traits of a small stature with good strength would serve him well as a jockey. Atkinson followed the advice and soon began an apprenticeship breaking yearlings for Greentree Stable, launching what became a most prolific career in the irons.


Born in Toronto but raised in New York City, Atkinson won his first race at the age of 21 on May 18, 1938 at Beulah Park in Ohio. The victory was in a six-furlong claiming race worth $1,000 aboard a 4-year-old gelding named Musical Jack. Atkinson went on to win 3,795 races in a remarkable 22-year career that included victories in the 1949 Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes with Capot. Atkinson was the leading rider in North America in both earnings and wins in 1944 and 1946. In the latter year, he became the first jockey to surpass $1 million in a year. Atkinson’s first major victory took place in  the 1941 Narragansett Special when he rode War Relic to an upset victory over that year’s Triple Crown winner, Whirlaway.


For more than half his career, Atkinson was the first-call rider for Greentree and piloted stable stars such as Hall of Famer Tom Fool and Horse of the Year Capot. Other standouts ridden by Atkinson included Devil Diver, Gallorette, Coaltown, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Hill Gail, One Hitter, War Relic, Hall of Fame, By Jimminy, and Ace Admiral, among others.


Atkinson was the only jockey to ever ride Tom Fool, the 1953 Horse of the Year. That year, they teamed up to win the New York Handicap Triple Crown, consisting of the Metropolitan Handicap, Suburban Handicap, and Brooklyn Handicap. Tom Fool also won the Whitney and Pimlico Special that year and was undefeated in a 10-start campaign, all of which were stakes races.


Of Tom Fool, Atkinson said: “On his best day, none of the other horses I ever rode, on their best days, could measure up with him.”


In 1957, Atkinson was elected to the Hall of Fame, becoming the first active jockey to receive the honor. He retired as a rider two years later. In 1961, he became a racing steward in Illinois, a position he held until retiring in 1976.


Atkinson died in 2005 at the age of 88. In the Thoroughbred Times, journalist Bill Mooney said Atkinson was “one of the finest jockeys of any generation and he possessed an intellect that accorded respect from virtually everyone he met.”