A small band of fellow jockeys

Sports correspondent & historian
with Sideline Sid

On our recent trip to Queensland, I met a sportsman who collects air points like confetti and receives a myriad of petrol discounts each month.

Sunshine Coast jockey Nathan Thomas is a tradesman hoop who travels his state in search of winning mounts, with a small band of fellow jockeys.

Along with fellow hoops Ryan Wiggins, Jackson Murphy, Justin Stanley, Chris Whitely, Georgie Cartwright and Jason Taylor, the travellers are the lifeblood of provincial thoroughbred racing in the Far North of Queensland.

Nathan grew up in Sydney with his only involvement in horse racing being as a spectator with the fun associated with racing appealing to the young man.

Being small of stature and a natural lightweight, he served an apprenticeship in Sydney, before finding his way north to the Sunshine State.

Racing in the Far North has endured a jockey shortage for years and after some expeditionary trips north, Nathan Thomas joined the small band of hoops that travel to the provincial tracks of Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns to bolster the hometown jockeys on race day.

Last week’s schedule is typical of the thousands of kilometres Nathan travels in a seven-day period.

Monday was a one-and-a-half-hour flight north to Mackay for six rides.

Tuesday was the Sunshine Coast trials before Friday night’s twilight meeting on the Sunshine Coast.

On Saturday it was another early start to fly to Townsville before two hours on the road to the Bowen races. The week was rounded out in South East Queensland with rides at Kilcoy on Sunday.

The enormity of time on the road and in the air is shown by last week’s journey to ride at Mackay.

Up at 3.30am at his Caloundra home, it is a trip on the Bruce Highway to meet the early morning check-in at Brisbane airport.

The group of jockeys travelling north gather for the 5.40am trip north before touching down in Mackay at 7.15am.

The return sees a 7pm arrival in Brisbane before Nathan faces a near-hour drive home.

The group, who regularly travel north, are a tight bunch, who enjoy the wins and fully support any adversity suffered by their fellow jockeys.

The trips north are a win-win for both the jockeys and the race clubs in the far north of the state.

The jockeys receive a regular full book of rides while the trainers and administrators have riders for all the listed starters.

Two points stood out for this writer when sitting down to chat with Nathan.

Nathan is not just a jockey but he is also a successful businessman.

Booking air fares, arranging regular airport parking, regular maintenance of his vehicle, etc - and did I mention the continuous time on his phone - make up much of his day.

While he has currently dispensed with the services of a jockey manager to book his rides, it results in plenty of time maintaining contact with trainers and stakeholders as race day approaches.

Fitness is a genuine requisite of success as a jockey. Nathan utilises the Caloundra City Boxing Club to be race-ride ready.

He equates the two minutes of boxing training with race riding where the same hard last 30 seconds are vital in a tight finish.

Nathan Thomas and his fellow band of riders who travel large distances will continue to remain vital to the success and continuation of thoroughbred racing at the top of Queensland into the future.