I owe Les Woodcock a debt of gratitude for something that took place long before I met him. Les wrote the stories on the back of baseball cards that so enchanted our son as a young boy. Les changed the look of baseball cards by replacing the statistical summary on the back of the card with an interesting profile.
Les dreamed of reporting on baseball as a young kid in Long Island. He got his first job as a baseball reporter for a startup magazine named Sports Illustrated, contributing an article to the inaugural issue published on August 16, 1954.
He left Sports Illustrated as an editor 20 years later to write for Time-Life in their European bureau. Because several members of his family missed New York city, he soon returned to New York to begin a new chapter in his career. Over the next several years he became the editor of five separate magazines, three of which were startups.
When I asked him about some of the great sports celebrities he has known, all he wanted to talk about were those five magazines. “I have interviewed most of the great players over the last 50 years, but that experience doesn’t compare with producing a good issue for a magazine. To hold the first issue of a startup in your hand is like holding your first child.”
Les feels fortunate to have worked in a career that he was passionate about. We are fortunate that he and wife Mary (Fluffy) Woodcock will retire to East Chop within the next few years. Although he will miss New York city, he believes that their quiet home on Madison avenue will be the perfect place to finish a book on baseball that has been collecting dust in draft form in his desk for years.
One of Les’s writers in the early 1970s was a Williams College student named Tom Willmott. Les at that time was the editor of Turf and Sports Digest, a magazine that reported on horse racing. Tom had developed a keen interest in horse racing along with several college friends from their attendance at a local racetrack. Tom became a regular writer for Turf and Sports Digest both in college and immediately after graduation.
He never lost his enthusiasm for the sport of horse racing. In 1997, Tom formed W.R. Thoroughbreds Inc., a company that participates in two aspects of the business. Tom buys and sells horses at auctions. He buys yearlings in the fall, trains them in Ocala, Fla., and sells them in the spring. In deciding on what horses to purchase, Tom spends hours studying pedigree. He looks for specific traits in the mare and sire that will increase the chances of their union producing a future winner. Statistics related to horse pedigree remind one of the statistics that are kept on professional baseball players.
Tom also races horses that his stables have raised and trained. In talking to him about this aspect of his business, his excitement reminds me of a parent watching a child participate in sports. This summer one of his young fillies, Fabulous Florence, did especially well, placing second in two important races. Tom’s stable in Saratoga, N.Y., raised and raced Florence’s mother, Tom carefully selected the father, and his stable trained Florence. Before a crowd of 55,000, Tom watched her first race like a nervous parent at an opening Little League event.
Tom has done well with his business, and one of his greatest admirers is John Potter. John’s interest in horse racing goes back to his days in Hong Kong when he was a part owner of a race horse. Although his horse never performed well, I am happy to report that John is back and doing well after three scary weeks in the hospital. He plans to be out walking Rocky very soon.