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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Some Of Warren County's Horse Racing Legends

Dallas Bogan on 23 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland:Heritage Press, 1979) page 58
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Sleepy Tom

Steve Phillips of Waynesville owned a racehorse by the name of "Sleepy Tom". He was a totally blind horse who has become a legend in Warren County. Sleepy Tom started as a delivery horse carrier for The Cincinnati Enquirer between Dayton and Xenia. Newspapers of the times were delivered from Cincinnati to Dayton by train. Horses and wagons were then engaged in transporting the papers to other towns.
Rivalry between The Sunday Enquirer and The Gazette (later The Commercial Gazette and then "The Commercial Tribune") was intense. A hefty circulation battle always broke out between the two papers, until The Enquirer bought the blind pacer from a Xenia livery stable.
A crowd always gathered at Beatty's Tavern in Xenia to await the arrival of Sleepy Tom. The reverence of the Sabbath was set aside as much betting was wagered. The sanctity of the churchgoer was by-passed for the mere speculation of the newspaper delivery contest. Sleepy Tom always won.
This fine racer was foaled in the Old Tavern Stables in Bellbrook, Greene County, in 1866. He came from fine stock, being sired by Tom Rolph. Isaac Dingler, his early owner, was impressed with Sleepy Tom's abilities to race, and some training was given him, but the horse being blind put a halt to any interests in racing him. He was repeatedly traded and with his loss of sight, he was withdrawn from his modest racing debut. Phillips interests in the training of pacers and trotters had just begun when he bought Sleepy Tom for $40.00 and a quart of whiskey. He was then put through regular rigorous training. He was first put to the test under Phillips in the traditional "Jimtown" (Jamestown, in Greene County) fair meet and showed promise. He won the race and proceeded to win all his races in neighboring events and fair entries.
Tom won two spectacular races at the Greene County fairgrounds and attracted the attention of Frank T. Stark, a railroad man and a racehorse buff. An agreement between Stark and Phillips was struck and greater things were in store for Tom.
At Chicago, on July 24 and 25, 1879, when Tom was 13 years old, the most famous racing celebrities ever gathered watched him race. He won the third, fourth and fifth mile heats in 2:16 1/2, 2:16 and 2:12 1/4 respectively. He defeated the world famous Mattie Hunter. He crushed the great Rowdy Boy, and handily won from Lucy.
It was said of Sleepy Tom by those who followed him, that he was the greatest and most graceful natural pacer that ever lived. Though moody and unhappy in his stall, he was at home when strapped between sulky shafts. His longing for the sweet smell of the track in his nostrils was forever unchanging.
Phillips ultimately sold Tom for $10,000. Age increasingly began to take over and he was again sold and traded, drifting to different parts of the country. The life of a legend ended in a stable fire in a western town.


Another Warren County horse that made headlines was a horse named "Nightingale." Stockholders and officers of the First National Bank of Franklin owned her mutually. She won every race in which she was entered in the years of 1892 and '93. She won more than $90,000 in her career. When her racing schedule included the raceway at the Franklin Fairgrounds (formerly situated on the extreme west end of Franklin, in the vicinity of Hollywood), the railroad companies were compelled to run special trains to oblige her fans. Her admirers included large crowds along with a band welcoming her home.
Her housing included a barn built especially for her with lace curtains at the stable windows. Her appearance of beauty with a sleek brown coat was an attraction of great elegance. Her driver, John Picket, took her to Lexington, Ky., in 1895, where she lost to a horse called Hamilton Nightingale.
Franklin residents, allegedly, along with Franklin Bank personnel, bet large sums of money on this race. Coincidental or not, the bank failed at this very time, and Nightingale became known as "the horse that broke the bank." Court litigation showed that the losses were not directly related to the famous race. In contrast, the bank examiner said that "he knew exactly why the bank closed and without further explanation Nightingale was held responsible." Nightingale was included in attached assets and was lost forever to her Franklin owners. Her fancy stable burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.

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