Features

“You don’t come to Saratoga on a whim, you need to start looking at your 2-year-old crop in March and start identifying horses you can bring up here. Next year, I would send a string of horses if I had the backing.”

 That’s how Jonathan Thomas answered the question of when he was coming to Saratoga for the summer. It was minutes after the Thomas-trained Catholic Boy upset the With Anticipation nearing the end of the 2017 Saratoga season. 

That was a day trip. A year later, Thomas has the backing and is here for the summer.

The 38-year-old former steeplechase jockey bedded down nine horses at the end of Rick Schosberg’s barn on the main track and another 20 at the harness track. Based at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Fla., Thomas has a bullpen of about 25 horses there.

“We try to figure out where they belong first and if they belong in our program, we keep them. If not, we try to find a way for the clients to move on without spending too much time or money,” Thomas said. “It’s clicking into place, we definitely don’t want to let Saratoga make us do things that we normally wouldn’t do by rushing into spots, we’re happy to be here and have a presence, I don’t know if we’re going to be participating at a high level, do right by the horses and focus on the fall.”

A former assistant to Todd Pletcher, Thomas went from training two winners in 2016 to 21 winners in 2017 and has already produced 17 winners this year for more than $1.3 million. 

“Bridlewood is our hub, when a group is ready, we travel, try to get it done and then go home and regroup. Like a traveling circus. This is the longest we’ve been on the road, since June 1st, went to Belmont and then shifted to up here. We’ll probably stay here through September, keep some horses at Belmont, then I’d like to go to Keeneland with a string, then migrate home and start all over again. I like the challenge, I strive off being challenged and having some pressure. I like that.”

The Special’s Sean Clancy walked down Thomas’ shedrow off the main track last week to discuss members of the string. (Editor’s note: Originally published in the July 29 issue of The Saratoga Special)

Kundray: New York-bred owned by Augustin Stable won a New York-bred turf allowance at Belmont when she returned from 21-month layoff June 22. The daughter of Distorted Humor and J’Ray relaxed in her round pen on a sunny morning. “Just a really good moving filly, a lot of pedigree, forward in her training, she’s easy to train, she’s just so generous about how she does things. We were very confident at Belmont, she actually outworked Catholic Boy before the Pennine Ridge, I breezed them together, her gallop out was monstrous. She had a substantial amount of time off but she’s always trained well. She’s run through her New York-bred conditions, she’s eligible for an open 1X, we’ll look at the next book, low-hanging fruit.”

Hope Again: An empty stall awaits the 2-year-old gelded son of Sayif who was purchased by Eclipse Thoroughbreds after breaking his maiden at 50-1 in his career debut at Chepstow in Great Britain. The Racing Post quoted his former trainer, Stan Moore. “Hope Again is a big, raw horse and I thought if he was fourth or fifth he’d have run a nice race. I wouldn’t be in any major rush with him, he could make into a really nice horse.” Thomas is thinking the same way. “The horse ran well, tipped out and mowed them down.”

Osare: Owned by Bridlewood Farm, champion Arrogate’s little sister broke her maiden going 1 1/4 miles on the turf at Belmont Park in June. “She was about 8 lengths off the pace at the eighth pole and just kept getting there and getting there to win a by a nose. We bought her as a yearling, we’ve been very patient and we’ll just let races come to us as she’s ready. We’ll run her in a mile and three-eighths on the turf here. I’m not so sure she can’t run on the dirt, but want to wait until she strengthens up, she was a little detached in her races, if she starts putting herself in her turf races, I wouldn’t mind trying it down the road.”

Entirely: George Strawbridge’s homebred daughter of Point Of Entry won her debut at Gulfstream Park before finishing fourth in the My Dear Stakes at Woodbine July 7. “She broke her maiden against the boys first time out. I’ll run her in the Bolton Landing (Aug. 15) or possibly the P. G. Johnson (Aug. 30).”

Till Then: Another Strawbridge homebred by Point Of Entry, he breezed an easy half-mile here Friday. “He acts nice.”

Catholic Boy: Beautiful bay colt stands in the back of his stall before marching to the front and nudging Thomas in the chest. Affable and upbeat, the son of More Than Ready has won five of eight starts, including the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational in his most recent outing. “He’s just getting stronger, starting to grow, he was a little grasshopper last year, he’s a neat horse. He trains like a Grade 1-caliber horse, he’s got that way about him so it was nice to get that done for him. I’ve been around horses who didn’t deserve to win a Grade 1 and I’ve been around a bunch who did, it meant a lot to our team to get that done. He’s not fancy with a hellish turn of foot but he just keeps coming at you and he’s got excellent mechanics. This horse is so easy to train, so easy. We’re going to take a good strong look at the Travers, now that he’s a Grade 1 winner it allows us to be a little bit more creative about what we do with him, you’re only 3 once, you only get so many mile-and-a-quarter opportunities. If you take the Florida Derby out of the equation, his resume on the dirt is good, he won the Remsen, second in the Sam Davis. We’ll train him accordingly. The good thing is the backdrop, the Saranac, is a week later. For right now, we’ll let him regroup, put some weight back on and get happy.”

Tillie’s Lily: Southwind Stables’ 4-year-old Distorted Humor filly is undefeated in four starts. Thomas scratched her from the Caress July 23. “She had a little temp. She’s fast, she’s very good, I think she’s the best horse we have. Lovely filly. Smart N Fancy or something like that. I don’t know if she’s strictly turf, I wouldn’t mind trying her on the dirt at some point, but want to try to win a stake first. If we can, then we can be a little more creative. She travels well, she won at Santa Anita, she won at Belmont, she won at Gulfstream twice. I’m patient.”

Tesora: Three-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy won her first two starts at Gulfstream Park and Del Mar before a winter’s break for owners Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and TNIP Racing. She returned to finish fourth in the Christiana Stakes at Delaware Park. She’s entered in the Coronation Cup at Saratoga Monday. “Little, light-boned filly, we won two with her last year, she finished fourth at Delaware, made an early move. I want to back her up and run her 5 1/2.”

Hot N Sour: Bridlewood homebred is a daughter of Tapit and multiple graded stakes winner Egg Drop. She breezed twice on the turf at Bridlewood before heading north to Saratoga. “We might try to run her two turns soon.”

March: Winner of the 2015 Woody Stephens when with Chad Brown, the son of Blame won his debut for Thomas when returning from an 11-month layoff at Gulfstream in December. Eighth in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes in his next start, March finished third in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Stakes in March before being freshened. He’s breezed twice at Saratoga. “We gelded him, gave him a little time off, he’s really cool. He actually won off a huge layoff. I don’t know where we’ll run him, just let him tell us. He was Catholic Boy’s workmate.”