A Haunting Tale of Silent-Film Actress Olive Thomas and Rewarding Rise of Her Namesake, Goodnight Olive

A Haunting Tale of Silent-Film Actress Olive Thomas and Rewarding Rise of Her Namesake, Goodnight Olive

Steve Laymon, who manages First Row Partners, was searching online for potential names for a daughter of Ghostzapper out of the Smart Strike mare Salty Strike. Not surprisingly, he started with the word “ghost.”

The content that popped onto his screen was surprising, if not unsettling.

It involved Olive Thomas, a gorgeous silent-film actress and a dancer in Ziegfeld Follies in the early 1900s. She became notorious for her rather wild lifestyle. As the story goes, Thomas ventured to Paris for a second honeymoon with her second husband, Jack Pickford, a most unfaithful partner.

They argued while partying deep into the night one evening in the City of Lights. When they returned to their hotel room, Thomas reached for a blue bottle and downed mercury bio chloride prescribed for her husband’s syphilis. Her tale hardly closes with her untimely end.

Stage hands and security guards at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City, where she often performed, have reported numerous sightings of her flitting about the playhouse. She has consistently been sighted wearing a beaded green dress and carrying a blue bottle. Workers at the New Amsterdam are so convinced of the apparition’s existence — and so eager to remain on her good side — that they often end their day by saying, “Goodnight Olive.”

Although Laymon knew he had landed on a terrific name, he had no idea what kind of runner she would become. Well, she is a daughter of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper in every way — delicate but talented enough to be bound for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint as a prime contender.

On the advice of bloodstock agent Liz Crow, First Row Partners purchased the filly for $170,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s 2019 Kentucky Fall yearling sale. They later added Team Hanley, managed by Jay Hanley, as a partner.

Goodnight Olive went unraced at 2. Various physical issues and two ankle surgeries have limited her to six career starts over the last two years for trainer Chad Brown. She has made a lot of a little with nearly half a million dollars in earnings.

After finishing second at Gulfstream Park in her March 2021 debut, she owns five wins by a combined margin of 29 ½ lengths. She made it clear she can be a force in the Filly and Mare Sprint on Nov. 5 at Keeneland with her rousing performance in her last start.

The $500,000 Ballerina Handicap, a Grade 1 race featuring an immensely talented field on Aug. 28 at Saratoga, represented her first test against graded-stakes company. She passed with ease.

Despite being bumped hard at the break, she was very responsive to jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and secured a perfect striking position. When he prompted her, she ghosted the opposition. She drew off to a comfortable 2 ¾-length decision in the seven-furlong “Win and You’re In” contest for the Filly and Mare Sprint.

Brown had targeted the Ballerina even before the season began, convinced that timing and distance would be ideal. “When he picks a target, as long as they stay healthy, he can really get them ready,” said Laymon.

Laymon, an optometrist in North Carolina, fell in love with racing when he attended the 1989 Preakness showdown between victorious Sunday Silence and talented rival Easy Goer. He has been with Brown since the trainer struck out on his own in late 2007. Brown previously worked as an assistant to the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, helping with Ghostzapper and other elite horses Frankel trained.

Laymon and Brown combined to win the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf with Dayatthespa, a New York-bred named by Laymon’s wife, Barbara. Laymon has displayed a golden touch since he brought together John Eaton from Montana, Roger Kaplan from Virginia, Will Robbins from San Francisco, Frank Romero from Rhode Island, and Martin Scheinman from New York to form First Row Partners. The far-flung group, so named because many of them occupy prime seats at Saratoga, boasts five graded stakes wins in five years.

Brown credits First Row Partners and Team Hanley for the extraordinary patience they showed in allowing him to develop Goodnight Olive. She underwent a second ankle operation as recently as last November.

“There have been more not good phone calls about this filly than good phone calls because she hasn’t run a lot,” he said after the Ballerina. “She’s not unlike her dad, who I worked with, who wasn’t on the track much but was very talented.

“The team of owners always let me do the right thing with this filly and never pushed her beyond what she was ready to do. Now, she’s finally got it together. I really appreciate their patience because when she is on the track and running, she is doing it with ease and unchallenged.”

Laymon praised Breeders’ Cup officials for the “Win and You’re In” program. He noted how much it helps the connections not only with expenses but in knowing they have secured a berth in a specific race. There is only one negative. The wait from late August until the big day at Keeneland, where Goodnight Olive broke her maiden by 8 ½ lengths in October 2021, seems like an eternity.

“Fingers crossed, prayers said every day, Chad and his team can keep her together,” Laymon said. “She’s doing well right now. We’re very pleased.”

Which brings us to the close of this tale, which must end with every effort to avoid offending any apparition.

Goodnight Olive.