By Jon Lees
France: The last time a sportsman with the surname Thomas was emblazoned across the front pages in France it was Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas winning the Tour de France in 2018.
Last weekend it happened again – but this time the sporting headlines were to celebrate a Frenchman’s success in the world of horse racing.
“Je savoure chaque instant” – or ‘I savour every moment’ – screamed Paris-Turf to mark the breakthrough victory of Ronan Thomas, a 42-year-old jockey with more than 20 years’ experience, who on Sunday clinched his first G1 triumph in the 151st Deutsches Derby on In Swoop, trained in France by Francis Graffard.
“It was amazing,” says Thomas. “All jockeys dream about winning a race like that but it is difficult when you don’t work for the big owners or big stable, it’s difficult to get a start in a race like that and it’s difficult to get a start on a horse with a chance.
“I have never even ridden a favourite in a G1 and there are more jockeys that haven’t won a G1 than there are that have won a G1. I feel lucky.”
For the avoidance of any doubt, the two sporting Thomases have nothing in common other than their surname. “I have no British connection, only a French family,” explains Ronan. “But this question is often asked of me when I speak with English people!”
Ronan Thomas’s father and brother are involved in trotting but Ronan preferred riding to driving, serving his apprenticeship with David Smaga before spells with Myriam Bollack-Badel and Criquette Head-Maarek, for whom he rode his first Group winner on Loving Pride in 2002.
“That was where I started to ride some really good horses,” says Thomas, who rode seven Group and Listed winners for Head up to 2006 when he began a prolific association with the mare Musical Way.
Thomas and the Philippe van de Poele-trained horse were inseparable over 23 races, which featured six victories including the 2007 G2 Prix Dollar and later that year third place in the G1 Hong Kong Cup at odds of 100-1.
“She was a special filly because I won a lot of races with her, a G2 on Arc de Triomphe weekend. We travelled the world. It was a very nice period in my life.”
Nowadays Thomas divides his year between France in the summer and Qatar in the winter where, riding for Umm Qarn Racing and trainer Alban de Meuille, he finished leading jockey last season.
Graffard, who is becoming a major force in French racing, provides most of his rides at home and could be key to Thomas realising his remaining ambitions if he keeps the mount on In Swoop.
“I am glad and lucky to win one G1 and the next step will be to try to win one in my own country,” he says. “I don’t know for sure if I will ride In Swoop next time but we still have the Grand Prix de Paris so a race like that could be good for him.
“You need a good horse to win those races and he would be the best horse I have ridden. We were hoping for a good result in Hamburg but with 19 runners it was difficult to be confident.”
Thomas has ridden nearly 900 winners in France and over 1,000 worldwide. In his best year in France he rode 72 winners and this year his score is nine.
“I love my job,” he goes on. “I have no weight problem. I have a fantastic wife and two amazing children. It made me very proud to be on the front page of Paris-Turf. Everything is going well for me.
“I have a couple of years in front of me to improve my score. I would like to ride 1,000 winners in France, that’s my target, and a G1 in my country. That would be really great.”