By JIM WELLS
Thomas Wellington was on his way out of the jockey lounge Friday evening, headed for the tunnel down the hall where riders and anyone else addicted to nicotine retire for a smoke.
“Hey, you better talk to this guy,” said jockey room custodian Bill Chestnut. “This is his last night here, and he’s darn good rider.”
A hard statement to dispute anywhere at Canterbury Park, since Wellington started the evening in first place among the track’s quarter horse riders. He would leave at such a juncture?
“Well I got a lot of work waiting for me at home,” he said. “I need to get to it.”
Wellington is a Missouri native but has been a resident of Des Moines the last 15 years. He and his wife, Kelly, have two daughters, 10-year-old Kylie and 16-year-old Shelby. The girls have some barrel racing competition coming up. Wellington wants to be there for that but he also needs time to round up some mounts for the upcoming quarter horse meet at Prairie Meadows, where he won titles five consecutive years at one time.
He departed Canterbury Friday night after running third in race eight with his only mount on the card with 12 wins, one more than Jennifer Schmidt. He added a qualifier when asked if that was it for the year. “Well, we’ll see,” he said. “You never know.”
In addition to riding quarter horses, Wellington is a union carpenter. He and his wife built their home themselves in Colfax on nine acres as much out of pride as anything. “I just thought it would be nice to build our own house,” Wellington said.
Kelly was an active participant in the project. “Couldn’t have done it without her,” Wellington said. “She did the foundation, was in on a lot of the cement work.”
The 1,800-square foot house is now 3,000 square feet. “We finished off 1,200 square feet in the basement,” he said. “Yeah, it’s plenty of space. The first night we slept there I thought it was way too much house for us.”
Then again, all during the building phase the Wellingtons lived in a mobile home, so the adjustment to more spacious quarters took a while.
They were no longer whacking elbows when they passed one another in the hallway.
Wellington, 41, grew up with horses. His dad had racehorses, mostly thoroughbreds, so young Thomas was galloping them by age 12 and rode his first race at 14, at a county fair.
Thomas came by his two livelihoods quite naturally. He dad is also a carpenter.
Although carpentry can be a more reliable occupation, it might have to change places with riding quarter horses in the current economy.
“I worked for two companies that were both Minnesota outfits,” Wellington said. “But the market’s not that good in Iowa right now.”
Of course, during the boom times Wellington burned both ends of the candle. . He’d work all day in the heat and then ride at night. “I wasn’t getting much sleep back then,” he said.
There isn’t much doubt that Wellington is a good hand, no matter the task. But Chestnut had to have a little fun with him on his last night just the same.
“Hey, these quarter horse riders don’t do anything you can call work,” Chestnut said. “They only ride a couple of hundred yards.”
Wellington smiled and continued down the hallway toward the tunnel.
EIKLEBERRY CONTINUES A ROLL
Ry Eikleberry rode three winners on Thursday night’s card and continued the hot streak Friday by riding two more.
He finished second on Smokem Gray in race one, losing out to Grandpa George ridden by Derek Bell.
He got his first winner of the night in the very next race, riding Yes He’s A Pistol, trained by Wade Rarick and owned by James Taplin.
Eikleberry’s mount was scratched when race three was moved from the turf to the main course. He ran out of the money in race five on Jolicoeur, but got his second win in race six on Patriate, trained by Bob Johnson for Linda Parker.
Eikleberry was on the lead aboard Cluny, owned by Fr. Jack Donahue, in race seven when the horse broke down.
He has 30 winners for the meet and trails Dean Butler, 47, and Derek Bell, 41.