Steve Moran

Pat Glennon joins our Incomparable Inductees

– The man who rode the arguably incomparable Sea Bird II –

Thomas Patrick (Pat) Glennon – (23 August 1927 – 14 February 2004) – had limited international success, measured by numbers alone, compared to his fellow “Incomparables” (the Australian jockeys who had sustained and remarkable success in England, Ireland and France from the 1900s to 1970s) but what a mark he made.

He is the only Australian jockey to have won the Melbourne Cup (which he did twice), the (Epsom) Derby and the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe – a feat also achieved by Ryan Moore and Michael Kinane. 

He is one of only four Australians to have won the Derby and the Arc and, of course, those victories came aboard Sea Bird II whom many regard as the greatest ever racehorse.

Sea Bird is second only to Frankel in Timeform’s all time ratings and I daresay there’d be some jurors, perhaps even a touch older than me, who would contest that verdict. 

While Frankel was commanding in several of his Group 1 wins it would, I fancy, be subject to debate to rate them as more imperious than Sea Bird’s victories in the Derby and Arc in 1965 (both of which can be seen on YouTube). 

In the 1999 published Century of Champions, John Randall and Tony Morris rated Sea Bird the greatest racehorse of the 20th century, one pound ahead of Secretariat and two pounds ahead of Ribot and Brigadier Gerard although Morris, post-Frankel, would write: “I witnessed Sea-Bird’s Arc, and have no doubt Frankel was superior, so if Sea Bird was worth 145, I can’t quarrel with a 147 assignment for last season’s superstar.”

Sean Magee, in his book “Great Horses”, wrote: “The victory of Sea Bird II in the 1965 Prix de l’arc de Triomphe was a performance of such merit that it will forever stand as a benchmark of excellence in thoroughbred racing.”

Fellow racing scribe Julian Wilson, in “The Great Racehorses”, wrote in response to being asked the greatest he’d seen: “…(I) never saw the great Ribot so the answer must rest between Mill Reef, Nijinsky and Sea Bird II….the ease with which he won the Derby had to be seen to be believed.”

Both authors pointed to the quality of opposition he faced. Sea Bird II won by six lengths from Reliance II, the previously unbeaten French Derby winner, who was immediately retired to stud as was Sea Bird. Third, beaten another five lengths, was Diatome who then won the Washington DC International at his next start. Those margins have been queried but it matters not, they were decisive. 

The unplaced division included the Irish Derby and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Meadow Court; the French Oaks winner Blabla; Preakness Stakes winner Tom Rolfe; Russian Derby winner Anilin; Hardwicke Stakes winner Soderini and the Coronation Cup winner Oncidium who would have such a huge impact on the New Zealand breeding industry after being syndicated – the following year – by Te Parae Stud’s proprietor, Alister Williams.

Sea Bird’s Arc win was, of course, the pinnacle in Glennon’s career which had taken him from Victoria where he grew up in Ascot Vale and rode his first winner at Bacchus March (at just 13) to South Australia, while still an apprentice, and then to Ireland and France.

In November 1943, the Adelaide News reported that: “Tom Glennon, the former Victorian jockey who won the 1925 Great Eastern Steeplechase on Dundalk and has been training horses in Melbourne, intends to apply for a licence to train here. Glennon was at Morphettville this morning with son Pat.”

Glennon quickly established himself among the leading apprentices and, later, senior riders in South Australia. 

He was quaintly described, in the Weekly Times, as having “brains and personality” as that paper reported an impending move to Singapore in 1949 and Glennon duly rode seven winners during a brief stint in what was then described as Malaya. 

It was more than ten years later that Glennon undertook his major international expedition; arriving in Ireland where he was promptly champion jockey, riding for Vincent O’Brien, in 1962. A title his countryman Garnet Bougoure had taken two years earlier when also in O’Brien’s employ. Fellow Australian Jack Thompson was champion jockey there in 1950, riding for Paddy Pendergast. 

In December 1961, Glennon told the Australian Press that “he would accept an offer from Mr. Vincent O’Brien of a three-year contract with a £2000 annual retainer.” Glennon said he had been told that Mr. O’Brien had a house waiting for him at Clonmel, Co Cork. 

Glennon, in that championship winning debut season, won all of Ireland’s major 1962 two-year-old races;  the Beresford Stakes on Pontifex, the Anglesey Stakes on Philemon, the Railway Stakes and the Birdcatcher Stakes on Turbo Jet, all for Vincent O’Brien, plus the Curragh Stakes on the Mick Connolly-trained Majority Blue.

It is not quite clear why he chose to leave Ireland – especially as he was riding for the great O’Brien who was leading trainer in Ireland 13 times between 1959 and 1989 and twice British champion under both codes; amassed 27 Irish classics, 16 English classics, 23 Cheltenham Festival winners and 25 Royal Ascot winners.

It’s believed he met French trainer Etienne Pollet while riding in Ireland. Perhaps he was lured by the romance of Paris. Regardless, his meeting with Pollet was fortuitous to say the least as he was the man who prepared Sea Bird. 

The Independent, in Pollet’s 1999 obituary, described him as one of the greatest trainers of the 20th century. “His training career spanned only 28 seasons and yet, as well as winning nearly all of Europe’s major races, he prepared several great champions including Right Royal, Scantus, Hula Dancer and Vaguely Noble, and in Sea Bird II he looked after a horse that few would dispute was the best to race in Europe this century.”

Glennon was at the forefront of this glorious time for Australian jockeys. In 1963, Des Coleman followed him from Adelaide to the UK which prompted the Evening Standard to report that Coleman would become the ninth Australian jockey to secure good appointments with leading English and Irish trainers in 1963. 

Glennon might have won the Epsom Derby in his first year but opted to ride Sebring rather than the winning O’Brientrained stablemate Larkspur who was partnered by fellow Australian Neville Sellwood  who was killed in a fall at Maisons-Laffitte, just five months later, on 7 November 1962  (aged 39). 

However, it was the glorious Sea Bird who set the Derby right for Glennon, in 1965, at his third ride in the Classic. Alas, Sea Bird’s dam Sicalada met an inglorious end as was rather brutally described in the Canberra Times – “Before Sea Bird made his racecourse debut, Sicalade was sold to a Paris butcher for £100. The butcher was able to chop 630lb of meat from the carcass. It has been estimated that if Sicalade was still alive today she would be worth close to £50,000 sterling.”

It ran the story as an adjunct to a report, in 1966, on a mare named Inflame who was purchased from the Botany Pound for $56 (after she’d been found wandering the streets of Randwick) and then on-sold for $820 before producing a yearling who was sold to trainer Dick Roden for $3500. 

Roden had, of course, provided Glennon with his second Melbourne Cup winner. 

Glennon’s first Cup win was in 1950, aboard Comic Court who was trained by Jim Cummings and strapped by his son Bart who would train 12 Melbourne Cup winners. A young Bart, then 22, it is rumoured might have been sent to find Glennon – just a couple of months his senior – on Cup eve and took him home on a milk cart after the jockey had reportedly had a “few too many”.

Comic Court remarkably started at 251 despite having won the Mackinnon Stakes, with Jack Purtell aboard, on the Saturday. Purtell opted to ride the unplaced Cup favourite Alister which saw Glennon called up, after the Saturday race, and he duly cruised to a three lengths win in then record time – with three of his fellow Incomparables in Bill Williamson, Ron Hutchinson and Neville Sellwood finishing immediately behind him. 

It could have been the second of a record-equalling (with Bobby Lewis and Harry White) four Melbourne Cup wins for Purtell.

Then 23-year-old Glennon said after the race that “it was worth living a whole lifetime for the win and the reception.”

“Glennon comes from a family that has been associated with racing for more than 50 years in Australia,” the Press reported at the time, “his father was a noted rider and seven uncles were horsemen. Two of them were killed in race falls. His father Tom was the most excited man on the course after the race and tears streamed down his face.This is the greatest moment of my life,’ he said, ‘I’d sooner have it than be young again and ride a thousand winners.’”

Glennon’s fiancee, Miss Terry Conlon said she did not have a bet but happily announced that they were to be married in three weeks’ time. 

Glennon won the Cup again, in 1959, on Macdougal and again it was with a mount he secured at the eleventh hour and again the margin was three lengths. Ron Hutchinson was booked for Macdougal but switched to Trelios when the eventual winner was injured leading into the Cox Plate which he missed. 

Hutchinson won the Mackinnon on Trelios on Derby Day and finished second, on a recovered Macdougal, in the Hotham Handicap. “I am convinced that Macdougal’s run was a better Cup trial than the win by Trelios,” he said at the time. Glennon then secured the mount after Bill Williamson reportedly knocked it back. 

Glennon won all the Australian classics and partnered great sprinter Matrice, sire of Manihi and grand-sire of Manikato, in 27 wins. He rode five winners from as many mounts at Broken Hill early in 1950. 

On retirement, he followed the lead of Jack Purtell and became a racing steward with the South Australian Jockey Club. He died in Adelaide, after a short illness, in 2004, and despite reportedly battling a number of personal and family issues, he was widely respected for the counselling he gave young riders.

POSTSCRIPT: The Incomparables are Frank Wootton, Frank Bullock, Bernard Carslake, Rae Johnstone, Scobie Breasley, George Moore, Edgar Britt, Ron Hutchinson, Bill Pyers, Neville Sellwood, Bill Williamson, Garnet Bougoure, Wally Sibritt and Glennon. 

They won 104 of the 117 Classic races in England, Ireland and France (including 53 in England alone) claimed by Australian jockeys and won 315 Group 1 races in those countries. In all, I have 38 individual Australian jockeys winning 363 races of current Group 1 status in England, Ireland and France.