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Cheltenham - Racing: Sam Thomas on Festival hopes and life as a trainer

After a successful career as a jockey, in which he won more than 500 races, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Sam Thomas heads to Prestbury Park once again, this time looking for success as a trainer.

After his retirement in 2015, Thomas turned to training, and admits the transition was harder than he expected.

“I was obviously going into it thinking I knew plenty,” said Thomas. “But looking back I was probably very naive to be able to think I’d be able to just step into the training ranks and just be successful, so it did take me a couple of years to get my head around a lot of things, but certainly to the stage we are now.

“I’m far from the finished article; I don’t think you ever are, I don’t think you ever stop learning in this game. There’s lot of challenges daily that throw themselves at you that you have to think on your feet and adapt, so it took me longer to get to where I wanted to but essentially it made me learn a lot more by making those mistakes myself.

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Thomas is set to return to Prestbury Park, and is most looking forward to seeing Before Midnight in the Grand Annual, who won around the old course last October.

“Before Midnight’s the one I’m most excited about. We’ve obviously been there this season, he won really impressively first time out in the October meeting,” said Thomas.

“He’s probably better on better ground and he’s just been a real superstar for the yard. He’s so consistent, we’ve dropped him back to 2m which seems to have brought out the best in him.

“He’s just the coolest horse, he just does his job, he’s enthusiastic, he loves his jumping, loves his galloping and makes my life very easy as a trainer, so we’re excited to have him going there.

“The Grand Annual seems the perfect race for him, he’s a horse than prefers going from the front; he jumps well. It’s obviously going to be very competitive but I’d like to think we’re going there with a good each-way chance.

“He’s very laid back, he’s a trainer’s dream. He eats – I don’t think there’s been a day when he’s left a single nut in the morning – Leah [who?] rides him every day, she does a fantastic job and she’s absolutely obsessed with him, as you would be if you rode him every day.

“He’s very straightforward, he’s an absolute dude, he just loves his job, and when he gets to the races he just switches and comes alive.

“I’m the worst watcher of a race, I’m a nervous wreck, so I pace up and down and find a little quiet spot to watch by myself, but it’s a sense of relief and satisfaction when the horse wins, and a million other feelings you can’t really describe.”

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