Tuesday 15 October 2019

Swan protégé Thomas eyes shot at Classic glory

Thomas: Hoping for glory
Thomas: Hoping for glory

Marcus Armytage

It is quite possible that tomorrow's Breeders' Cup Classic, worth $6 million, could be won by a trainer who once rode as a conditional jockey for Charlie Swan in Ireland.

Jonathan Thomas, 38, is only 18 months into his training career but saddles Catholic Boy in the Classic, which is the climax not only of the 35th Breeders' Cup, but the American Flat season.

And while it is not unknown for small trainers to get one-off chances at such riches in America with their once-in-a-lifetime horses - California Chrome and Mucho Macho Man spring to mind - intuition tells me this is unlikely to be Thomas's one stab at glory.

Thomas was brought up on the Virginian estate belonging to racehorse owner and breeder Paul Mellon, where he was inspired by passing a statue of Derby winner Mill Reef every day.

"I was a huge fan of European racing, particularly jumps, and spent three winters on and off with Charlie," said Thomas.

While riding for leading American jump trainer Jack Fisher, his life, let alone career, was put on hold by a fall at Colonial Downs, which left him paralysed and wheelchair-bound for a year.

"I guess I had 30 falls in my career. You have some where you wonder how you survive, but that was the most unremarkable of them.

"However, I got a compression fracture and I was lucky I was young," he said.

Thomas returned to racing as assistant to trainer Christophe Clement and then Todd Pletcher, with plans to one day train himself.

"But I thought the one chink in my armour was young horses. So I started pre-training horses for other trainers, so I would get to handle them."

He still runs a pre-training yard, Bridlewood, through which seven runners at this year's Breeders' Cup graduated, although only the eye-catching Catholic Boy, a colt he bought on spec for $160,000 (€140,000), runs for him. He now trains 45 horses.

"I didn't anticipate being here, but this is what you work for. It's something to be here with one that has a shot.

"I'm a huge fan of Roaring Lion and I'm going to be shell-shocked saddling a horse in a stall next to John Gosden." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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