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Meet Jockey Tim Thornton!
Meet Jockey Tim Thornton!
By M. Scott McMannis
For a teen-ager who won’t be 19 until the 27th of this month, jockey Tim Thornton is well traveled, and quite experienced on large animals.
Thornton was born in Moss Bluff, Louisiana, near Lake Charles. His father, Mark Thornton, was training Thoroughbreds and young Tim would go to the racetrack with him whenever he could. “Kids under 12 years of age weren’t allowed at the track, so I would get down in behind the driver’s seat in his truck and slip into the track grounds with him,” Thornton explained with a devilish grin. “I knew even then that I wanted to be a jockey.”
When Thornton was eight years old the family moved to Utopia, Texas, a town so small that the one school serving the community had grades 1-12. Thornton’s father, in addition to training race horses, trained riding and rodeo horses. His background in rodeo included wins in the Louisiana state rodeo finals in bull riding and in the all around.
The Thornton offspring, three boys and a girl, followed in the senior Thornton’s footsteps. “We were riding junior bulls and steers as kids,” Thornton continued. “Rodeoing is a big deal in Texas, and every weekend we would go to rodeos in nearby towns.” Thornton won his level two years in a row, at ages 13 and 14.
Prior to that, however, Thornton had a severe health scare when, at age 12, he suffered kidney failure. The doctors discovered that Thornton had been born with only one kidney, and it had become blocked and non-functioning. The doctors were able to clear the blockage.
When Thornton was 15 his family moved to Lake Villa, Illinois. While attending Grant High School he was galloping horses to gain experience. “I took out my exercise rider’s license when I turned 15, and my jockey’s license when I became 16,” said Thornton.
“I started race riding at Arlington on June 1, 2003,” Thornton continued. “I rode my first winner, Saturday Sin, for trainer Christine Janks on June 13. He paid $62.20.
"I had 20 wins when I left in August to go to Turfway Park,” Thornton offered. “In October I went to New York and was the leading “bug” rider out of 10 apprentices at the Aqueduct meet.”
At the end of March, 2004, Thornton returned to Hawthorne. After spills in May and June that injured the same wrist, Thornton went to the Indiana Hand Center where a bone graft to fix the broken wrist was done and a severed ligament in the nearby thumb was reattached.
Six months later Thornton resumed riding in New York. In March of 2005 he returned to Chicago to ride first call for trainer Frank Kirby. “Mr. Kirby has been great to me,” offered Thornton. “He is a very fine person to work for.”
Kirby returned the sentiments. “Tim is a good rider with plenty of natural talent. He is a smart youngster with a bright future.”
But Thornton will be the only Thoroughbred jockey in the family. “My family now has a farm in Indiana,” he recounted. “My dad continues to train several kinds of horses there. My brother, Matt, and sister, Maria, help out on the farm and both still rodeo. Last year, Maria won the Indiana state finals in barrel racing and in the all around. My other brother, John, is a professional bull rider and saddle bronc rider in Texas.
“And I would still be riding bulls if I wasn’t a jockey,” Thornton concluded with a smile.