The horse racing world lost a good one yesterday, although it probably doesn’t register as a blip on the radar to many outside the Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream circles. But those who had the pleasure of knowing him over the years agree that we’ve lost a gem. Monte Thomas has died after a lengthy bout of cancer.
Our first encounter with Monte came after one of our horses was on the farm rehabbing from an injury and we were in need of a new trainer. When the horse was ready to resume training, my dad got a call from the gruff-voiced farm manager (Monte) and the conversation went something like this:
- Monte: Your horse is ready to train. Whattaya want to do with him?
- Dad: Uh, I was thinking about sending him to [Trainer X]
- —- LONG AWKWARD SILENCE —
- Dad: Uh, are you a trainer?
- Monte: Damn rights I am!
- Dad: Would you want to train him?
- Monte: Yeah okay.
And that was that. We had our new trainer and Monte had his new owner. The next four years were a ton of fun with Monte. A few wins and close seconds and thirds mixed in with some hilarious cross-country calls on speaker phone, listening to him talk about the current state of our stable, typically with liberal usage of a “sumbitch” and his catchphrase “damn rights!”. We lovingly imitated him later on over a few beers.
He and his wife Cathy were shrewd negotiators at the sales. They would approach a consignor after the sale ended and try to snag something they had their eye on earlier, usually saying something like, “Well I know you want $18,000 for this one, but you see, we already spent all our money and only have $12,000 left. Will ya do that?” And sure enough it worked like a charm. Just imagine a Pletcher trying that line!
There are countless stories like these which one could tell about Monte. He was a hard ass, all business, but also warm and fun to be around. He was a widely respected trainer and horseman throughout the FL circuit. He oozed the type of integrity which many in the industry could only dream of having.
His career line, dating back to 1979 when the Equibase records begin, is:
- Starts: 3,202
- First: 424
- Second: 404
- Third: 370
- Earnings: $4,319,403
Monte Thomas and those like him are the backbone of horse racing. Every track has a couple of them. In the age of the super-trainer and massive egos, the Montes of this world are a breath of fresh air.
So this is our sendoff to you, Monte. If you’re reading this up there, thanks for a fun ride and we’ll be thinking of you next time we’re in the winners circle. DAMN RIGHTS!
If you would like to make a donation in Monte’s name, go to Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at: https://www.thoroughbredaftercare.org/donate/ .