Horse Racing

When one door closes, another opens

Joseph Thomas's journey from jockey to trainer

BY RUDDY ALLEN
Observer staff reporter

Friday, September 15, 2017

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The popular Jamaican saying “When one door closes, another opens,” can be effectively applied to veteran horseman, Joseph Thomas.

After seeing his career as a racehorse jockey derailed due to weight issues, Thomas could have given up on the sport. Instead, he decided to become a trainer. Thomas rode more than 65 winners, while saddling more than 240 winners during his career.

Popularly known as “Sardie”, Thomas said that he was encouraged to venture into the racing industry by his father, Alfred Thomas, who was a jockey as well.

“My father rode at tracks such as Knutsford Park and Boscobel, along with the famous Arthur Jones and others. He rode at so many race tracks — I don't remember all their names. He inspired me to follow in his footsteps into racing.

“My father took me to Old Harbour, and there I began to get closer to the horses and to understand them more. There I saw riders such as David McKenzie, Trevor McKenzie and Don McKenzie, to name a few, and from there I don't know what happened, but I fell in love with the sport, which was around 1961,” Thomas recalled.

“Noticing how keen I had become, one day my father asked me what I wanted to do and I told him that I wanted to ride racehorses. He took me to trainer Sydney Watson, and from there I began to learn how to ride horses.

“At the time, Watson had three apprentices, including me, but it seemed as if he didn't want to apprentice me, so my father took me to Valbert Marlowe, and there it all began for me. Marlowe apprenticed me and I got through with obtaining my riding licence. After three months, I began to ride horses and to win races,” Thomas revealed.

Although Thomas had a fairly good riding career compared with other jockeys who became trainers, he believes that his career in the saddle could have been better.

“My first winner was with a horse by the name of Mack The Milk in 1969. And, as far as I know, I won 68 races as a jockey — it could be more, but I can recall 68. The last time I rode in a race, I was a winner. It was in 1974, in a charity race, when I rode a horse named Yellow Bird and beat Kenneth Mattis who was on Beverly.

“My riding career could have been much better, because I never really got to establish myself. My apprentice master never really liked the idea of me going to exercise horses for other trainers, and so I had to be at his stables at all times.

“But, with all that, I learnt a lot which would help me when I [eventually] became a trainer. All my patterns and styles that I have now [are the result of what] I learnt from Marlowe,” Thomas said.

While battling weight problems in 1973, Thomas was encouraged to take up the training of horses by then president of the Jockey Club, Roy Parkes.

“Weight issues hampered my career and I just had to give race riding a break. I ended up coming back and rode in the charity race and then I reapplied for a jockey's licence in 1974, but Roy Parkes said I should apply instead for an assistant trainer's licence. Because I was an ex-rider, he said I would have the assistant licence for one year and then the following year I would get the trainer's licence; and so I did that.

“In 1976, I got my trainer's licence, and here I am now – still a proud trainer of racehorses. I had my first winner as a trainer with Zowie, and after that I won some very good races”.

I would say that this is the best time in my training career. When you have the material, you can deliver, but if you don't have the material you can't deliver.

“I want to make a living out of racing. That is what I am doing now. Anytime I decide to call it a day, I won't come back into the game, so I want to make a living for me and my family,” Thomas ended.

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