Foolish Pleasure: When Knoxville won the roses

Beth KinnaneDowntown, Our Town Stories

A touch over 50 years ago on a farm down in Williston, Florida, a plain bay thoroughbred colt was born on March 23, 1972. Nobody around here (or anywhere for that matter) knew it then, but three years later that colt would put Knoxville in the winner’s circle of the 101st Kentucky Derby.

In August 1973, in the wake of Secretariat’s blitz through the Triple Crown, the colt’s breeder, Waldemar Farms, sent him to Saratoga Springs, New York, for the annual Fasig-Tipton yearling sale. There, this plain brown wrapper of a horse sold for the modest price of $20,000.

Trainer Leroy Jolley leads Foolish Pleasure to the winner’s circle of the 1975 Kentucky Derby. Owner John L. Greer is to the far right. (Photo courtesy Kentucky Derby Museum)

And this is where Knoxville enters the chat. The as-yet-unnamed colt was hammered down to local businessman John L. Greer.

Greer, then, was the part-owner and board chair of Kern’s Bakery (among other business interests), a place where he once worked the counter as a young man. By the time he purchased this particular horse, he was a millionaire and had already had some success at the racetrack with his colt, Ridan, back in the 1960s.

While he loved horses and horse racing, according to a New York Times interview in 1975, he always set his budget for any one horse to a max of $30,000, even though he could afford to pay more for fancier stock.

“He could pay $200,000 for a yearling but he is in racing for fun and doesn’t care to buy that much heartburn.” — NYT, March 3, 1975

Love it though he did, to Greer owning racehorses was a risky hobby. And, thus, his newly purchased son of What a Pleasure out of the mare Fool-Me-Not was named Foolish Pleasure.

Put in the care of trainer Leroy Jolley, Foolish Pleasure blazed a trail through his 2-year old season in 1974. The cheap but well-balanced bay horse with great hindquarters, somewhat dodgy knees, turned-out toes and a bad temperament finished his season undefeated in seven starts. His efforts earned him the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year old colt.

From the NYT, May 1975:

“When John L. Greer got back home to Knoxville last winter with the Eclipse Award saluting his unbeaten colt, Foolish Pleasure, as the 2‐year‐old champion of 1974, he was the proudest bakery tycoon in Tennessee. For three days he had been snowed with congratulations and he knew the home folk would come crowding around to share his pleasure. Driving to business on the first day back, he parked where he usually does and started the six‐block walk to his office prepared to stop and shake hands every few steps. He walked one block, two, three, four. Nobody had glanced his way. A block farther on, a man approached. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘finally,’ and although he didn’t recognize the man right off he gave him a receptive smile. ‘Say, Mac,’ the man said, ‘which way to the nearest pool room?’”

That anonymity wouldn’t last long. Foolish Pleasure had three starts prior to the 1975 Kentucky Derby, winning the Flamingo Stakes, taking his first loss in the Florida Derby, then rebounding to win his last Derby prep, the Wood Memorial.

On May 3, Foolish Pleasure broke from the gate as the favorite under jockey Jacinto Vasquez to the roar of the crowd at Churchill Downs. Foolish Pleasure stalked the leaders around the track, as was his style, moved to the lead down the stretch and won by 1 ¾ lengths. One of the ignominious things about his victory is that the track announcer was calling him as rival Prince Thou Art until about six strides from the wire. Didn’t matter in the long run though. Greer and the Scruffy City had their Derby winner.

Though he didn’t go on to win the Triple Crown (he finished second in the Preakness and Belmont), Foolish Pleasure had an outstanding Hall of Fame career, retiring with 16 wins from 26 starts, with four seconds and three third placings. He had some fertility issues and didn’t go on to huge success as a stallion, but he had a good life. He eventually retired to a ranch in Wyoming where he was turned out with his own harem of mares. He died Nov. 17, 1994, at the age of 22.

Enjoy this video from the 1975 Kentucky Derby:

Beth Kinnane is the community news editor for

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