"Tom really loved his horses, and he really loved THIS horse.”
The Tom in Mimi Voss’ statement is her late husband, Hall of Fame trainer Tom Voss, and the horse is Sam Sullivan. Now 30, Sam Sullivan lives with other retirees on the Voss family’s Atlanta Hall Farm in Monkton, Md. It’s been his home for 29 years, since Mimi Voss saw him on the farm owned by his breeder, Victor Divivo.
It was an intentional search. A few years prior, the Vosses won two turf races with the Divivo-bred Baltimore Dancer.
“Baltimore Dancer was a great big gray, and I went looking for any other progeny, which I’ve done many times,” Mimi Voss said. “Victor had his younger half-brother, and I bought him as a yearling. That’s Sam Sullivan.”
Both gray Maryland-breds were sons of another Divivo-bred, the unraced Restless Native mare Cretian Queen. Sam Sullivan is by Temperence Hill, champion 3-year-old colt of 1980 and winner of that year’s Belmont Stakes-G1, Travers-G1, Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1 and Arkansas Derby-G2.
Tom Voss sent his wife’s 4-year-old gelding to Atlantic City for his first start – a maiden special on the grass – July 9, 1997. He finished second in a four-horse race. Eleven days later, he was pulled up in a maiden special over hurdles at the Saratoga Open House. Back home in Maryland in August, he was beaten 231⁄2 lengths when seventh on the turf at Laurel Park.
He never ran on the flat again, winning a maiden claimer ($8,000 tag) over hurdles at Virginia Fall in October and converting to timber for the 1998 season. His schedule was sporadic at first with a single start (and win at Fair Hill) in 1998, a win and a second in two 1999 tries, and three consecutive wins in 2000 – cross-country races at Middleburg and Great Meadow plus the Radnor Hunt Cup timber stakes. He and young stable jockey Jonathan Kiser combined to win all six races together from 1997-2000, a partnership that ended when Kiser was killed in an accident at his family home in July. The two-time champion rider was 22 and the loss staggered the steeplechase community, most particularly Tom Voss.
Sam Sullivan returned the following year, and won the cross-country race at Great Meadow on Virginia Gold Cup Day, and then repeated the Radnor Hunt Cup win two weeks later with Roger Horgan aboard. In 2002, 9-year-old Sam Sullivan won the Grand National at Butler under Blair Waterman (now Wyatt) defeating staunch timber rivals Young Dubliner (Ire) and Swayo. Customarily, the next step is to come back the following week for the Maryland Hunt Cup in Glyndon.
“He was favored for the Hunt Cup,” Mimi said. “I was co-chair of the Maryland Hunt Cup Ball that year, and Tom came up to me and said, ‘How would you feel if something happened to Sam during the Hunt Cup, and there you are welcoming hundreds of people? How would you like to stand in that receiving line?’ I said, ‘Fine, he doesn’t have to run.’ And that was it. I don’t even know if Tom entered him. He was not going to have anything happen to him.”
The horse’s absence spoke volumes: Young Dubliner won that Hunt Cup in record time, with 2000 Hunt Cup winner Swayo (who would win the 2003 edition) second.
Sam Sullivan’s success continued, Hunt Cup or no. With Waterman, he won the 2002 Mason Houghland Memorial timber stakes on the Iroquois card. They won the hometown My Lady’s Manor in 2003, finished third in 2004 and fourth in 2005.
Then 12, he retired after the 2005 running and took 11 wins, six seconds, two thirds and $190,000 earned in 26 starts with him. He was the Maryland Steeplechase Association novice champion in 1998, and timber champion in 2002. Sam Sullivan appears on Equibase’s list of top horses trained by Tom Voss – along with graded turf stakes winners John’s Call, Dreadnaught and Always First (GB), steeplechase champion Slip Away, the dual-purpose Cookie, and major hurdle winners Planets Aligned and Quel Senor (Fr).
Originally from Massachusetts, Mimi didn’t ride, but focused instead on breeding. She bred “lots of nice horses,” including stakes winners Guelph, Mickey Free, Teb’s Bend and others. Sam Sullivan doesn’t make the homebred list, but he still feels like family.
“I looked up one of Tom’s quotes when he was asked about Sam Sullivan’s racing ability,” she said. “He said, ‘Sam is Sam. Good, consistent and honest. He’s got a good disposition, and he is like a pet to us.’ ”
Even his name matters. The Vosses’ son, Sam, discovered a collection of letters written home by ancestor Franklin Voss about his best friend Sam Sullivan. In their late teens, they fought together in the Civil War.
“My Sam was young, and he was fascinated,” Mimi said. “And Tom had always been a Civil War buff.”
For several years after his retirement, Sam Sullivan – the horse – was ridden in the hunt field by Elizabeth Voss, Tom and Mimi’s daughter who took over her father’s training business when he died in 2014.
“Elizabeth said he was excellent in his old age until his hock started bothering him,” Mimi said.
These days, the gelding lives in a field with several other horses, a snowman among a group of bays and chestnuts. At their disposal is a large shed, deep with straw. He’s still fed grain twice a day during the winter, and happily munches carrots when offered. And to this day, he has no soundness issues, and there’s not a bump or blister on him.
“Sam Sullivan, as Tom said, was always consistent,” Mimi said. “He had no bad manners. It was exciting for me to win all those races. I think watching a timber race when you own the horse and you’ve had it since it was a baby, you’re about to have a heart attack. And I was there every time he ran. He took us everywhere.”