Tuffy Morlan moved from Bonsall to Arizona in 2001 to be with his daughter, but the Bonsall community remembered him well during a wake October 21 at the San Luis Rey Downs Golf Club.
“He was a good guy,” said Bonsall resident Diane Strain, who organized the “Tally Ho Tuffy” party in the honor of the former jockey, who passed away September 19 at the age of 96.
“Tally Ho” was what Morlan said when leaving a room.
“He was always positive, always upbeat,” said Mona Aguilar, who ran the breakfast café at the San Luis Rey Downs Thoroughbred Training Center when Morlan worked as an exercise rider in Bonsall.
Melvin “Tuffy” Morlan was born on August 5, 1912, in Clayton, NM. He was the sixth of 12 children.
His father had been a minor league baseball player before becoming a farmer and his mother was a schoolteacher.
Morlan completed sixth grade before running away from home. He began his career as a jockey while in his teens and first rode at Tijuana’s Agua Caliente racetrack in 1930.
After pari-mutuel betting was legalized in California and the Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita tracks were opened, Morlan rode at those facilities.
Morlan’s racing accomplishments including winning the Belmont steeplechase race in 1943.
He also worked as a stunt jockey in several films, including “National Velvet.” He was the exercise rider of 1950 Kentucky Derby entrant Your Host.
Morlan also rode at the Los Alamitos track after its opening.
He became acquainted with the Vessels family at Los Alamitos, and after the Vessels family purchased San Luis Rey Downs Morlan moved to Bonsall in 1974.
Morlan served as Bonsall’s first honorary mayor.
“Tuffy was always a gentleman,” said Leigh Ann Howard, who has been the general manager of the San Luis Rey Downs Thoroughbred Training Center since 2001 and has been involved with San Luis Rey Downs since 1975.
“He was a great storyteller,” said Richard Clancy, whose television, antenna and sound system business included Morlan as a television customer.
“I think we were all much better off in our lives knowing him,” said Bonsall resident Georgia Thompson, who often had Morlan care for her horses.
“He found something beneficial about everybody,” Strain said. “I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.”
Morlan worked as an exercise jockey at San Luis Rey Downs. “He had a knack for tough horses,” said Alan Conway.
Sherry Pfeil remembered a filly who had been tough to ride. “Tuffy was the first to get on her,” Pfeil said.
“He really loved galloping horses,” Pfeil said. “I think that’s when Tuffy was the happiest.”
Morlan also had knowledge of a horse’s breeding. “That faded over the years, but he was exceptional,” said exercise rider Chris Rakistis.
Morlan’s knowledge was not limited to horses. “Tuffy had a real love of books. He loved to read,” said exercise rider Una Breadmor.
At one time plans existed for Morlan to be the librarian at Vessels Stallion Farm. “He was truly a wonderful person,” Breadmor said.
In addition to patronizing the bar at the San Luis Rey Downs Golf Club, Morlan was also a regular at Ringer’s.
“He is the example of whatever it is that makes us want to look up to,” said Ringer’s owner Ron Schade.
Schade noted that Morlan was upfront but not crude. He does, however, recall one incident from Morlan’s later years in Bonsall.
“I came in to work and we found a whole set of uppers on the floor,” Schade said.
Howard noted that Morlan had full sets of upper and lower dentures. “He got real excited about something and his teeth fell out,” she said.
Morlan was returning from Ringer’s when the Camino Del Rey Bridge washed out. He was rescued by helicopter and the rescue made national news.
“All of a sudden I hear ‘Bonsall, California’ in the news,” said Strain, who was in the state of Washington at the time.
Morlan returned to Ringer’s the following night. “Tuffy said, ‘Did you see me on TV last night?’” said Ringers bartender Diana Carter.
Three weeks later Morlan required another rescue after a car accident. This time his driver’s license was pulled.
Strain provided her phone number along with offers for rides and noted she received three to five calls a week. “He was not shy about asking,” Strain said.
Morlan’s daughter, Liz Collett, lives in Hereford, AZ.
After Morlan moved to Hereford to live with his daughter, he made one final trip to Bonsall and stayed with Strain.
Morlan died peacefully in his sleep – after, according to a letter from Collett, flirting with nurses during the day.
Collett sent Morlan’s ashes to Bonsall to honor a request her father had made.
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