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Tributes paid to ‘gentleman’ jockey Taffy Thomas of Cheveley near Newmarket who has died at 76

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Tributes have been paid to former leading lightweight jockey, Taffy Thomas, who has died at the age of 76.

Born in Caernarvon, in North Wales, and christened Myrddin Lloyd, he was always affectionately known as Taffy from the time he arrived in Newmarket in 1961, as a 15- year-old, to work as an apprentice jockey for trainer Geoffrey Barling.

The following year he rode Weather Way, the first of 878 winners he was to ride in this country in a career which spanned nearly three decades.

Taffy Thomas
Taffy Thomas

His first big win came in the Northumberland Plate on Piaco for Barling four years later and he went on to register other big-handicap victories winning the Cambridgeshire and the Stewards’ Cup twice as well as the Cesarewitch and the Lincoln.

But he wasn’t just a good lightweight he could also win Group races, when given the opportunity, and went closest to winning a Classic when partnering Tower Walk to finish second to Right Tack in the 2,000 Guineas in 1969.

In the 1970s he linked up with Phantom House trainer Ryan Jarvis, for whom he rode the classy grey speedster Abalsom and, in 1977, registered his best seasonal tally of 98 winners.

Taffy Thomas on Tower Walk
Taffy Thomas on Tower Walk

In 1983 he partnered Sayf el Arab to win the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes by three lengths at Royal Ascot at odds of 33-1 for trainer Bill O’Gorman, who said: “I was very sorry to hear of Taffy’s death. He won the Stewards’ Cup for me in 1969. Irving Allen had taken the horse away from Ron Smythe just a few days before.

"He didn’t have much weight and Taffy was under a cloud of some sort and hadn’t been riding for several days, but anyway it all worked out.

“He later won the Palace House and dead-heated in the Temple Stakes for me on Reesh and, of course, won the King’s Stand on Sayf el Arab.

“We always got on very well and he rode many other lesser winners for us over the years.”

Taffy with friends at the White Lion
Taffy with friends at the White Lion

Taffy also spent 10 winters riding in India and the Far East, and in 1977 won the Singapore Gold Cup on Sir Toby, whose trainer, Teh Choon Beng, now 82, said: “He was a very skilful jockey and an extremely nice gentleman. We had a lot of fun when he was riding for me.”

Taffy met his wife to be, Sallie, when she was working for a town bloodstock agent, and the couple married in 1973.

They made headlines in 1984 when their twin girls, Amy and Diana, were born 29 weeks premature.

Sallie, now chairman of the parish council in Cheveley where the couple lived, said: “We had a great life together and it certainly was an adventure.”

She said Taffy had been taken into hospital on December 2 and transferred to the Arthur Rank Hospice where he died with his family around him.

His funeral service will be held at noon at West Suffolk Crematorium on Thursday, January 27, followed by a celebration of his life at the Millennium Grandstand at the Rowley Mile Racecourse.