Steve Moran

The Ron Hutchinson story and Aussies abroad (Part 3)

Hutchinson wins the 2000 Guineas at his first ride in England

Martial was the most significant of Hutchinson’s first season winners. The 18-1 chance won the 2,000 Guineas in a photo from George Moore’s mount Venture VII – the 6-4 favourite – owned by Aly Khan.

“We finished on either side of the track and I had no idea if I’d won,” Hutchinson said.

It was Ireland’s first 2,000 Guineas winner. “Probably changed my life that day especially with all the publicity around it being Ireland’s first winner.”

Moore had won the Guineas the year before on Taboun and four years later, compatriot Billy Pyers – on Baldric – matched Hutchinson’s feat by also winning this Classic at his first ride in England.

“George was in France, at the time, with a retainer to ride for Alec Head and Garnie Bougoure was in France as well. Only Bill Williamson and I were in Ireland at that time. A trainer named Seamus McGrath got Williamson over there. Scobie (Breasley) was there ten years before us. He was well established, he’d won the jockey’s championship in England,” he said.

Breasley was the premiership winner in England in 1957 and would go on to be champion again in 1961, 62 and 63 – matching the number of titles claimed by countryman Frank Wootton from 1909.

Breasley led the way in the 1960s – a decade which also saw Australians Williamson, Hutchinson, Moore, Bougoure, Pyers, Pat Glennon, Jack Purtell, Neville Sellwood, Des Lake and Russ Maddock ride Group 1 winners in England, Ireland or France.

In the 15 years from the end of WWII to 1960, add Rae Johnstone, Edgar Britt and Jack Thompson to that international Group 1-winning list of Australian jockeys, while much earlier the trail was blazed by Wootton, Frank Bullock, Bernard Carslake, Wally Sibbritt and Bill Huxley.

Gary Moore, son of George, maintained the tradition in the 1970s and 1980s winning 12 races which now have Group 1 status, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – the famous race also won by his father and Bullock, Johnstone, Breasley, Glennon, Pyers, Williamson and Sibbritt.

Johnstone, Moore senior, Breasley and Glennon had the distinction of also winning the (Epsom) Derby – which Sellwood won shortly before his death in 1962.

The deeds of these extraordinary Australian jockeys were arguably incomparable – their success as significant and enduring – if not more so – than Bradman’s cricketing Invincibles or the group of Australian tennis legends who dominated that sport through the 1950s and 1960s.

The “Incomparables” – Wootton, Bullock, Carslake, Sibbritt, Britt, Johnstone, Breasley, Glennon, Sellwood, Hutchinson, Williamson, Bougoure, Pyers and George Moore – were those who had the greatest impact on English, Irish and French racing.

They won 104 of the 117 Classic races in England, Ireland and France (including 53 in England alone) claimed by Australian jockeys and won 316 (now) Group 1 races in those countries.

In all, no fewer than 38 individual Australian jockeys have won 363 races of current Group 1 status in England, Ireland and France. You can add 12 German and Italian Classics plus nine editions of the Grosser Preis Von Baden – and even this list may not be finite given the lack of historical records for many races.

This tally includes often forgotten Group 1 cameos from Paul Jarman (for Kevin Prendergast), Alan Simpson and Ron Quinton who each won the Irish St Leger, along with Maddock who twice won Group 1 races in England.

Huxley won the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks in England in 1914, while Jack Purtell won an English and Irish Oaks in successive years in the 60s. More recently Kerrin McEvoy and Brent Thomson each won six Group 1s in the three key racing countries (plus had success elsewhere in Europe).

Jack Thompson, Des Lake, Darren Beadman, Kevin Moses, Rod Griffiths, Peter Cook, Bill McLachlan, Billy Cook, Tommy Burn and Craig Williams claimed one success at the top level, as did our more recent Royal Ascot sprint-winning hoops – Luke Nolen, Steve Arnold, Craig Newitt, Jay Ford and Zac Purton.

However, it’s the band of men who rode for kings, queens, chancellors and maharajahs before the era of mobile phones and laptops who carry the incomparable tag. Those who excelled from the first decade of the twentieth century to the 1970s.

These intrepid men who (generally) travelled by sea; who fought in wars; who escaped some in perilous circumstances; one of whom was interned in a German prison camp; another who was twice incarcerated in peace time and pardoned by the French President Georges Pompidou and one who was killed on the track.

The Incomparables number fourteen.

Frank Wootton – four times champion jockey in England (12 Group 1 wins).

Frank Bullock – won the first and third editions of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (23).

Bernard “Brownie” Carslake – fled from Austria to Romania disguised as a railway engineman; then on to Russia where, in 1917, he was champion jockey before the revolution had him fleeing to England (24).

Bill “Weary” Williamson – despite a career interrupted by WWII military service, he was described by Lester Piggott as “the best big-race jockey in the world” (37).

Rae “Togo” Johnstone – the most successful in terms of Classic and major race wins after a shaky career start with multiple bans from riding and a more than colourful life which included escape from a German prison camp in WW11 (51).

Arthur “Scobie” Breasley – rode more than 2,000 winners in Britain and was four times champion jockey. “The rivalry between the “boy wonder” Piggott…and Breasley, 21 years his senior, illuminated the turf for 15 years,” wrote Julian Wilson after Breasley’s death (39).

George “Cotton Fingers” Moore – champion jockey and trainer who was named the BBC’s “Overseas Sports Person of the Year” in 1967 (26).

William “Billy” Pyers – twice jailed after car accidents in France, he rode the great Dahlia. Pardoned, in one case, by the French President. (26).

Pat Glennon – champion jockey in Ireland but best known for his partnership with Derby and Arc winner Sea Bird who won seven of his eight starts. Glennon was aboard in the seven wins but not when he was once beaten (8).

Neville Sellwood – won the Derby in 1962 before being killed, a few months later, in a race fall at Maisons-Laffitte (6).

Garnie Bougoure – trail-blazed around the world and arguably, and unfairly, the least heralded of this illustrious group (14).

Edgar Britt – dominated the racing world in India and elsewhere. Lived to 103 and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (15).

Wally Sibbritt – not as well-known as his confreres but won the Arc and five other Group 1 races in France (6).

Plus, of course, Hutchinson, who was arguably robbed of a Derby win (which went to his great mate Breasley) but enjoyed great success in England and Ireland with his tally of 29 international Group 1 wins only bettered by Johnstone, Breasley and Williamson.

The Incomparables won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe 11 times (Gary Moore, perhaps an Incomparable Enfante) made it 12 when he won in 1981 – one of 12 Group 1 wins he registered in England and France.

The won the Epsom Derby eight times; took seven Ascot Gold Cups (Thomson made it eight in total); and the Sussex, Middle Park and Dewhurst Stakes on ten or more occasions.

Six of them were named in the Racing Post’s list of the top 50 jockeys of last century. They were Bullock, Wootton, Carslake, Britt, Breasley and Williamson (all British and Irish jockeys were considered for the list plus foreign jockeys, provided they were based there for at least five years).

Many made an immediate impact. Hutchinson and Pyers each won the 2,000 Guineas at their first rides in England. Moore senior, Sibritt, Maddock and Billy Cook did likewise although not in a classic race. 

Johnstone had the extraordinary record of 30 Classic wins including the (Epsom) Derby three times and twice won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Legendary broadcaster, the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan, named Johnstone and Breasley among his 12 horseracing heroes.

In all, I fancy the Incomparables record is unrivalled. True, New Zealand jockeys have done exceptionally well in Australia; Brazil has exported champions Joao Moreira, Silvestre de Sousa and Jorge Ricardo; South Africans have fared very well around the modern racing world and Latin and South American jockeys have excelled in North America.

However, most of the aforementioned Australians were household names in a time when racing was a household sport; travelled farther when travel was cumbersome and went to the then mecca of horseracing.

It is remarkable that Australian jockeys won the Derby eight times between 1948 and 1967 and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the same number of occasions from 1945 to 1969.

From the late 1950s to the early 197’s it is also remarkable that eight Australian jockeys plundered the plum races of England, Ireland and France with Hutchinson, Breasley, George Moore, Williamson, Pyers, Bougoure, Glennon and Sellwood all bona fide stars. Purtell’s impact was more of a cameo nature but he picked up two Classics in 1964 and 1965.

Breasley’s four British champion titles, competing against none other than Lester Piggott, had him generally hailed as the best of this group which sits comfortably with Hutchinson.

Others, too, came in Hutchinson’s time. In 1963, the English racing press reported that “Adelaide jockey, Des Coleman, arrives in England next northern spring to become the ninth Australian jockey to secure good appointments with leading English and Irish trainers in 1963.”

The Evening Standard reported “Coleman joins a contingent from “down under” led by English champion for the past two seasons Scobie Breasley and Ron Hutchinson, Bill Williamson, Russ Maddock, Val Faggoter, Eddie Cracknell, Garnet Bougoure and Pat Glennon.”

In 1965, they were joined by Des Lake who took up a placement with Paddy Prendergast after Hutchinson had gone to England.

Graeme Kelly, in the Canberra Times in 1966, wrote: “Victoria has been hardest hit by losing jockeys to leading overseas trainers. The loss of riders such as Scobie Breasley, Jack Purtell, Bill Williamson, Ron Hutchinson and Garnet Bougoure has sapped Victoria’s riding strength.

“If Breasley, Purtell, Williamson, Hutchinson and Bougoure were riding in Victoria; jockeys such as Roy Higgins and Jim Johnson would be forced almost completely out of the limelight. While Higgins and Johnson are capable riders, they lack the experience and finesse of the Victorians on retainers overseas.

“Of course, South Australia has lost Bill Pyers and Pat Glennon, Des Lake has just left for Ireland from Sydney and Russell Maddock, one of Queensland’s best riders, is on a retainer in the north of England.”

The writer’s assessment of Higgins and Johnson was surely too harsh but their competition had certainly been diminished. Geoff Lane, Jack Purtell, W.A. ‘Billy’ Smith, Alan Burton and then Higgins and Johnson were the Victorian premiership winners immediately after Hutchinson’s departure.

“They were probably helped, I guess, with so many of us overseas. Geoff (Lane) won the premiership as an apprentice the year after I left and, at the time Alan Burton was one of the leading riders,” Hutchinson said.

“He was great mates with old Arthur Smerdon and rode a lot of winners for him. They used to bring off some big coups in those days.

“And there were other very good riders in Melbourne like Kevin Mitchell. I remember a plunge landed with a horse called Phar Ace, which he rode, and even The Times in London ran the story. Whatever Kevin said was gospel, apparently and whenever he said one would win they usually got the money. He was quite an unassuming bloke though,” he said.

This exodus was, according to Hutchinson, largely down to Breasley’s deeds on the track and his demeanour on and off the racecourse.

“Scobie was not only a great rider but was also very well respected. They thought the world of him over there. He was very popular with all the owners and he rode for all the best people. One of his retainers was with the Duke and Duchess Of Norfolk but his main trainer was Jack Clayton.

“After Scobie went over there, I think he made all the Aussie jockeys very popular. I went to England to ride for The Duchess of Norfolk who’d had another Australian called Tommy Burn about 15 years before me. Scobie, as I said, was retained by the Norfolks too, at one stage, but they only had third claim on him.

“Some jockeys had multiple retainers. I had four at one time. I had only had the one retainer in Ireland for Paddy Prendergast but when I went to England, I was retained by the Norfolks and then by the trainers Jack Jarvis and Harry Wragg, and another fellow called John Sutcliffe so, at the time, I had four people retaining me. 

“I managed everything myself. We had no managers in those days. I never rang up for a ride, in all my life. I was always asked to ride. Then, Sunday morning was when most rides were organised. The phone would go from around ten in the morning until one o’clock in the afternoon. The trainers would ring over those three hours. Then the phone wouldn’t ring again after one o’clock and, by then, the whole week’s racing was organised.

“You gave an answer pretty much straight away when offered a ride. There were no videos to look at but I was pretty good on the form. I had a card system in my office. I had a girl who kept the cards up to date. I could pick things up at a glance from my form cards while I was on the phone. Not too many others did it as far as I know.

“In Australia, I had a big tape recorder for the race broadcasts which was handy, listening to the things finishing on or unlucky from what the commentators said. My wife would tape the races from the radio.

“The jockeys should know the form backwards these days with all the videos available to them.

“I never rang up for a ride and I never tried to get under anyone’s neck. The Norfolk stable probably had 40 or 50 horses maybe, not like the big stables today. They were all owned by the Duke and Duchess and their friends.

“Jack Jarvis and Harry Wragg probably had about 40 horses from memory. Harry’s main owner was Lord Rosebery but he didn’t like Australians but, in the end, I rode for him. The Duchess Of Norfolk’s mother was Lord Rosebery’s daughter,” he said.