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Obituary: Jockey Thomas Won More Than 2,000 Races

B. Douglas Thomas, a Canadian-born jockey whose 2,000-plus wins spanned a 30-year career, died March 9 of a heart attack. He was 78.

Thomas won multiple graded stakes throughout his long, successful, and all too often unlucky riding career. Known by horsemen and fans as either “Doug” or “Dougie,” Thomas’ career began in Toronto with the legendary Canadian trainer Jerry Meyer at the age of 17 in the 1960s. Under the ‘old-school’ tutelage of Meyer, Thomas learned all aspects of the sport, from breaking and training to hand-making tack.

In addition to quickly exhibiting excellent riding dexterity, Thomas proved to possess a cunning horse sense that was uncommon among jockeys. Thomas’ career began at Woodbine in Toronto where he rode with Canadian jockey legends Sandy Hawley and lifelong and close friend Robin Platts.

His first victory (aboard longshot Fort Apache) at Fort Erie paid more than $300. In retrospect, this dramatic payoff proved to be symbolic of Thomas’ career, for he subsequently became known for bringing in longshots. Thomas soon left Toronto in 1968 to seek success in New York, where he completed his apprenticeship. His gamble to leave Canada quickly paid off for he became the leading ‘bug’ rider at Aqueduct Racetrack. His earnings of more than $900,000 were the highest for any apprentice rider in the country that year.

While Thomas experienced the glory of success and the love and respect of an enduring fan following through the years, he suffered from a frustrating amount of bad racing luck. While Thomas won numerous graded stakes races and was a member of the elite jockey colony of Monmouth Park in the 1970s and ’80s, he lost close to a total of three years worth of racing due to several serious injuries, including but not limited to the following: broken back (twice), broken wrist, broken shoulder, hyper-extended thumb resulting in a fracture, and a multi-fractured orbital bone that caused permanent vision damage. But in the summer of 1990, at the age of 45, Thomas experienced the worst of his injuries. After going down in a race at Monmouth Park, he was clipped by a trailing horse that crushed in his forehead, causing hundreds of bone fragments to enter his frontal lobe.

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Well over a year later, at the age of 47, Thomas returned to racing, displaying his physical and mental toughness.

The heart of Thomas’ career was based in the New Jersey-New York circuit. During the late ’70s and early ’80s, he experienced popular rivalries with the likes of Don MacBeth, Craig Perret, Angel Cordero Sr., Carlos Lopez Sr., and Jerry Bailey. From 1977-81, Thomas was the leading rider at the Meadowlands.

Through the years, Thomas had success aboard some of the country’s most impressive fillies and mares. In 1978, he won the Monmouth Oaks (G1) on Sharp Belle. Aboard Spruce Fir, Thomas won the Queen Charlotte Handicap (G3T) at the Meadowlands in 1987 and 1989 and The Matchmaker (G2T) at Atlantic City Racecourse in 1989. In 1993, Thomas rode Miss Indy Anna, one of the fastest fillies in North America at the time. They won the Columbia Stakes (G3) at Pimlico Race Course, one of the graded prep races for fillies that lead to the Breeders’ Cup. Unfortunately, as racing luck would have it, Thomas and Miss Indy Anna never made it to the Breeders’ Cup due to bone chips in her left front knee.

Respected for his courage, keen horsemanship, gentlemanly demeanor, ability to consistently win on longshots, and turf-riding prowess, Thomas was consistently popular with the racing public throughout his career. He loved the sport, a true ambassador of racing. His career took him beyond the borders of North America. Representing the U.S., Thomas competed in international racing festivals in South Africa and Japan. He won races in Johannesburg, Capetown, Durban, and earned great popularity in Japan at Tokyo and Kyoto Racecourses.

Always willing to sign an autograph and give a reporter an articulate quote, Thomas was known for his generosity, sportsmanship, and charisma. Throughout his career, he maintained an array of interesting friendships with many sports celebrities, including renowned artist LeRoy Neiman.

Thomas retired on his 52nd birthday at Monmouth in 1997. After hanging up the saddle, Thomas never returned to any kind of life in horse racing, despite the pressure from his family and close friends to become a steward.

This press release has been edited for content and style by BloodHorse Staff.

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