Edited report from Los Alamitos
Jockey Sam Thompson, who was injured during a spill at Los Alamitos Dec. 20, died at 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 25. Since the accident, Thompson was on life support in the coronary care unit at Los Alamitos Medical Center. When he began to fail, the decision was made to remove the life support. He was 36.
"Sam wanted his organs to be donated," said Kristen Watanabe, Thompson's girlfriend for 11 years. "His kidneys were removed and someone will be getting those. His mother, Gloria Thompson, (trainer) Donna McArthur, and I were there with him. It was very peaceful.
"On the night of the accident I was torn apart," Watanabe added. "If he would have passed away on that night, it would have been so difficult. They resuscitated him twice and I feel like he came back to give us an opportunity to prepare. His mother had an opportunity to come (from Maryland) to see him and so did his dad and brother. We were all able to say goodbye to him in the proper fashion. Everyone has been so wonderful in the support that they've given us. I'd like to thank them for being there for us during this time."
Thompson is survived by his mother Gloria Thompson, father Harold Thompson, step-mother Cathy Thompson, brother Eric and sister Kim, and niece Jaime.
At Los Alamitos Race Course, Thompson, a native of North Carolina, was one of the leaders in the jockey's room. A Jockeys' Guild senator and the room representative at Los Alamitos, Thompson was involved with Los Alamitos management in the expansion and renovation to upgrade the jockey's room at the Orange County track. He was also a council member of the Los Alamitos division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America.
"Whenever I needed to discuss something with the jockeys, Sam always took a leadership role," said Ron Church, the racing secretary at Los Alamitos. "The young riders looked up to Sam. He was a young man but he was viewed as one of the deans in the Los Alamitos jockey room. He looked after them. He always wanted the best for his fellow riders."
"Sam owned the respect of a lot of people including myself," said jockey Cody Jensen, his fellow Los Alamitos room rep and also a member of the national senate of the Jockeys' Guild. "He was probably as well respected and liked from coast to coast as a jockey as I've ever known. It's hard sometimes to be liked by everyone when you're a jockey, that's just the nature of the business, and how we're wired and programmed, but Sam managed to do that. That will be part of his legacy; just how well respected he was as a person.
"He would always go to bat for a fellow rider. He tried to make a difference. He was never loud or boisterous but when he had something to say he held the respect of all the riders. When he spoke we listened. I can only hope that when I'm done, I'll have just half of the respect that Sam earned."
"When he was at the races, Sam was always one of the first one to join in for the prayer devotions," added Aurio Bermeo, the chaplain at Los Alamitos Race Course. "I only see his smile when I think of him. He was never angry or upset. He was a good friend. He's in the Lord's hands now."
Thompson was injured when his mount, the first-time starter, Harems Dynasty fell after the wire during a 300-yard maiden race for 2-year-olds. Thompson recently returned to the saddle after missing most of the 2008 season while recovering from a broken foot. Through Dec. 15, he had won 12 races at Los Alamitos this season. He won 600 Quarter Horse races, including 55 stakes, in his Los Alamitos career.
Thompson won the Los Alamitos Million Futurity in 1997 with champion This Snow Is Royal and 1999 with champion Corona Kool. He also piloted champions Tiny First Effort, Corona Cash and Deelish to name a few. He won the 2007 Go Man Go Handicap with champion FDD Dynasty, the 2006 PCQHRA Breeders Futurity with Tac It Like A Man and the 2006 Rainbow Futurity with Big Time Hero. Thompson was awarded the Special Achievement/Jockey award by the PCQHRA in 2000. The award goes to a rider who has had an outstanding year, shown significant improvement, or achieved racing success.