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From Stable Hand to Winner’s Circle, Tom Amoss has Lived Life on the Track

Tom Amoss (Louisiana State) says it was the beauty and pageantry of horse racing that first drew him to the sport as a youth. Four decades later, Amoss has ascended the top tier of horse trainers, with no signs of slowing the pace.

To date, more than 4,000 horses trained at the Tom Amoss Racing Horse Stables in Lexington, Ky., have raced to victory. Amoss holds leading trainer titles at Fair Ground, Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, and Kentucky Downs, and is a member of the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame.

While Kentucky may be synonymous with horse racing, Amoss’ story begins in his hometown of New Orleans, La., where his fascination with horses began.

“I loved watching a horse race at full speed, challenging another horse to the wire,” said Amoss. “And I wanted to learn more about it.”

A self-described “city boy,” Amoss was introduced to the sport through a family friend and was quickly drawn to the track. He had a keen eye for a horse’s talent and potential, and started “handicapping” the races, betting a few dollars at a time.

“I would look at the race, gather information about the horse in [trade] publications and try to figure out which horse would win,” Amoss said.

He enjoyed the puzzle and the satisfaction of being right, and knew he belonged in this world. But it wasn’t the track and the grandstands (the “frontside”) that grabbed his attention. He was drawn to the “backside” of the barns and stables, and the activity that happens outside the spotlights.

Amoss saw the inner workings of the backside where resources came together to prepare and coax each horse to their full potential. He was hooked.

“I fell in love with that process and wanted to work on the backside…training horses to be their best,” he said.

The Stables and Sigma Nu

Amoss had no illusions of his inner “horse whisperer” waiting to be set free.

‘I was a total novice,” he said, laughing. “I was drawn to something I had little experience with, but wanted to learn more.”

During winter break in high school, Amoss worked at a local horse stable working for legendary trainer Jack Van Berg. The days started early, ended late, requiring hard manual labor seven days a week.

Amoss made it 11 days before he quit.

“I had a dream, but the reality was different…and the dream died,” he said. “I couldn’t even make it two weeks.”

Amoss enrolled at LSU in 1979, still developing his own sense of self. He had a late birthday, was younger than his peers, and was still following the crowd.

“When I got to LSU, I was still that same kid from New Orleans who was not as driven as I should have been,” Amoss said. “I didn’t think for myself.”

During fraternity rush, the easy path was to follow friends into fraternities filled with familiar faces from home. It would have been a soft landing.

But on bid day, staring at two bids from the “known” house and Sigma Nu, he knew we was at a crossroad. After 30 minutes of deliberation, he picked Sigma Nu, and stepped outside the comfort zone he’d known his whole life.

Decades later, Amoss cites pledging Sigma Nu as the most important decision he ever made in his life, saying “everything changed for me at that moment.” Through the fraternity, Amoss also met his wife, Colleen, with whom he shares two daughters.

In Sigma Nu, he learned to work with people from all walks of life, who viewed the world through different lenses. It opened his mind and changed his attitude.

Amoss went from following to leading, taking on roles of Social Chairman and Rush Chairman, and developed a new approach to life.

“I became more accepting of other people's ways rather than relying on the only way I knew,” he said. “It was a deliberate decision to expand my mindset.”

Amoss also knew his decision to quit as a stable hand years ago was an opportunity missed.

And the dream revived.

During summer breaks, Amoss worked as a stable hand in Shreveport. The hours were still long, the work still hard, but Amoss never quit.

After graduation from LSU, Amoss returned to the backside barns and stables, calling it his “graduate school” for horse training.

He set his sights on becoming a trainer, taking every opportunity to ask questions and absorb knowledge from the experienced trainers around him.

He moved from stable hand to assistant trainer, to veterinarian services to becoming certified as a horse trainer in 1987.

A Win to Remember

On his long ledger of victories, one, in particular, stands apart.

In May 2019, his horse Serengeti Empress was set to run in the Kentucky Oaks - the “girls” version of the Kentucky Derby held the day before the Derby.

Amoss said Serengeti was the best filly he ever trained but was coming off a disappointing loss in her prior race. It was a last-minute decision by Amoss to put her in the race.

His unease was also jarred by her slot in the 13th starting gate and her 13 to 1 odds, noting he’s “incredibly superstitious.”

The fear was unfounded. In this race, 13 proved lucky. Despite starting on the outside lane, farthest from the rail, Serengeti Empress defied the odds to win, nosing out her challenger by less than two lengths.

Watching from the stands as his horse neared the finish, the reality of the situation hit Amoss.

“I’ve won a lot of races, but I didn’t have a signature race…and now I’m watching it about to happen,” he said.

When Serengeti Empress crossed the finish line, his friends and family erupted in celebration, knocking Amoss to the floor. It was a scene broadcast across the country.

“Mike Tirico, the NBC announcer, actually said, ‘I hope he’s okay’ as he watched our celebration,” said Amoss, laughing at the memory.

The win was also significant for personal reasons. He grew up with five brothers, all of whom have led accomplished lives and achieved great success.

“I was the horse trainer,” Amoss said. “And this was MY moment for my family.”

Until his parents became too old to travel, they attended as many races as they could. Amoss wanted more than anything to win a big race while they were watching.

“I never asked to win a race, but I always said at the end of my prayers at night, ‘God, if I have a big win out there can you please make it when my parents are alive’.”

“So when I won that race…knowing my parents were watching on TV, I was filled with so much joy,” Amoss said, noting his mother passed away that fall, and his father followed her in the spring. “That [2019] race was my last chance, and I was given it.”

Looking back over the years, Amoss gives credit for much of his success in life and business to Sigma Nu.

“Being a part of Sigma Nu helped me grow up and [and instilled] responsibility and work ethic,” said Amoss.

He remains close to his Sigma Nu brothers, many of whom can be found in the grandstands of his races, at LSU tailgates and other social events that bring them together.

“So often in life people come and go, but not these guys,” said Amoss. “We’re as close as we were back then…and I am as proud of that as anything else.”

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