John M. Gaver, Sr. took an unusual path to training Thoroughbreds. After graduating from Princeton University, Gaver worked as a language teacher and wrestling coach at a prep school. However, in 1929 a friend of Gaver’s, James G. Rowe, Jr., invited him to join the team managing Brookdale Farm and the racing stable owned by Harry Payne Whitney.
After Whitney died in 1930, Rowe took over the running of Mrs. Payne Whitney’s famed Greentree Stable and asked Gaver to come with him. In 1939, Gaver was appointed head trainer for Greentree, a position he held for the next 38 years. During his time with Greentree, Gaver conditioned 73 stakes winners, including winners of five American classics, four champions, and two Horse of the Year honorees.
Gaver won two legs of the Triple Crown twice. He conditioned Shut Out to victories in the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and Capot won the 1949 Preakness and Belmont. He also won the 1968 Belmont with Stage Door Johnny.
Gaver’s four champions were Devil Diver (1944 Champion Handicap Male), Capot (1949 Horse of the Year), Stage Door Johnny (1968 Champion 3-Year-Old Colt) and Tom Fool (1953 Horse of the Year). A champion at 2 and undefeated at 4, Tom Fool won the New York Handicap Triple Crown in 1953 by winning the Metropolitan under 130 pounds, the Suburban under 128 and the Brooklyn with 136.
Along with his five victories in Triple Crown races, notable victories for Gaver included six scores in the Metropolitan Handicap, the Lawrence Realization Stakes (3), Empire City Handicap (3), Grand Union Hotel Stakes (3), Hopeful Stakes (2), Sanford Stakes (4), Arlington Classic (2), Whitney Handicap (5), Travers Stakes, Blue Grass Stakes, Brooklyn Handicap (5), Carter Handicap (4), Wood Memorial (2), Suburban Handicap (4), Champagne Stakes (3), Pimlico Special (2), Massachusetts Handicap, Dwyer Stakes 94), Saranac Stakes (3), and Man o’ War.
Gaver led the nation in earnings in 1942 and 1951. In 1977, he suffered a stroke, which led to his son, John Gaver, Jr., taking over at Greentree. Gaver, Sr. died in 1982 at the age of 81.
John Gaver, Sr. was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1966.
Tom Fool wins the 1953 Whitney