Steve Moran

The Ron Hutchinson story and Aussies abroad (Part 5): Hutchinson reflects on 30 years away

Sixty years on, Ron Hutchinson reflects fondly on the adventure of his lifetime, with the constant support of his wife, and with his children joining them in their second year abroad, 1961.

“She was my wife and manager, Norma, and she supported the decision to move and she never complained. The kids came over in 1961; only the two kids then (Susan and Raymond) and friends moved into our house.

“The second year in Ireland, instead of staying in the hotel we had friends who had a big house at Newbridge and we stayed with them with the children. Peter and Sally were born later in England.

“Norma had a little baby in Ireland but we lost him soon after birth. A little Irish kid named Mark we’d have had but he died when he was just a few days old,” he said.

Life was brighter professionally as the major race winners continued to flow but the biggest prize of all, the Derby, eluded him – agonisingly so in 1966.

“Towser Gosden was training Charlottown who was a very good two-year-old. My second retainer was for Gordon Smyth who took over the training of the horse after Towser became very ill and died the following year.

“Gordon and I got on well and I expected to be riding Charlottown who was one of the favourites for the Derby after his very good two-year-old season.

“Throughout the winter, the horse had a problem with a hoof and Gordon had to be a bit soft on him. We ran him at Lingfield in the Derby Trial about a month before. He was favourite. There was another good horse in the race, Black Prince, who led all the way. We got back and finished well but couldn’t catch him and got beat, ran second.”

Charlottown was owned by Lady Zia Wernher who was a successful owner and breeder and was champion owner in 1955 and 1966. Her name was, in fact, Countess Anastasia Mikhailovna de Torby. She was the elder daughter of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia, a grandson of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.

She married British Major-General Sir Harold Wernher, son of wealthy financier, Sir Julius Wernher, who had made his fortune in diamonds.

“Well, about a week out from the Derby, I get a telephone call from the old man.

“Hutchinson, Wernher here. We’ve come to the unanimous decision that you don’t get on with the horse and you won’t be riding him in the Derby and he hung up. That was the conversation, full stop.

“Oh jeez, don’t tell me. I was very disappointed as you can imagine, so anyway the only fellow I could talk to about that was old Scobe.

“I rang him and said ‘what you think’s happened here, Scobe’? He said ‘yes, I know and I’m riding the horse’. They’d already contacted Scobe unbeknown to me and of course he went on to win the Derby.”

Hutchinson says these events didn’t strain the friendship with Breasley. “No, no, not by any means because I wasn’t going to ride it anyway, they’d already sacked me. The owner never gave me time to explain myself. I’ll never forget it, that phone call. He just sacked me and hung up,” he said.

In contrast, Hutchinson’s relationship with the Norfolks never faltered.

“I had a retainer for 15 years with them. I got on very well with the Duchess. I never told her a lie and I never made an excuse for myself if I made a mess of things or got beat. Never blamed the horse, if it was my fault it was my fault, and I think that’s why I lasted so long.

“The Duchess would write down my opinion of each horse after we would work them early in the season. Before the season started, I would go down and ride every horse in the stable. If I said something was no good, she would simply get rid of it.

“She had a lot of faith in me. That’s why we stayed together so long. She trusted me. It was more the Duchess as the Duke was so busy in his work. She was one of the first to put in an all-weather training track, a wood chip track, and when they were new they were beautiful.

“When I retired in 1977 it was the longest association between any stable and jockey in England and I was well looked after, but I’d say the really big retainers came in when the Arabs and people like Robert Sangster became heavily involved in English racing.

“Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan, they invested so much money, and I’d imagine that Pat Eddery’s retainer for Prince Abdullah would have been enormous. The retainers weren’t that big in my day, but they were nice,” he said.

Hutchinson had a strong association with trainer John Dunlop, who took over the Castle Stables in Arundel – on the Norfolk’s estate – after he had worked for Gordon Smyth.

Dunlop (OBE) trained 74 Group 1 winners, including ten British Classics. He was champion trainer in 1995 and, interestingly, it was he and Hutchinson who combined with the filly Hatta to provide Sheikh Mohammed’s first winner as an owner in Britain – in a two-year-old fillies’ maiden at Brighton on 20 June, 1977 which was Hutchinson’s “retirement” year.

Hutchinson also rode Hatta to win the Group 3 Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood.

It was ten years earlier, apparently, that Sheikh Mohammed had first attended a race meeting in England and saw George Moore win the 2,000 Guineas on Royal Palace.

“That year I finished in England was the year Balmerino came over and John (Dunlop) was training him. He ran second in the Arc to Alleged, he was such a good horse and John was such a good trainer,” he said.

And the year after Hutchinson left, Dunlop won the Derby with Shirley Heights – a classic case, perhaps, of who knows what might have been given that Hutchinson had ridden the horse as a two-year-old.

Finished in England, rather than retired, was the optimum word. “I was 50 when I finished in England but then I had another three years in Singapore and Malaya.

“I had a working holiday in New Zealand for about six weeks at the end of 1977 and rode a winner or two.

“Then on the way back to England, I stopped in Singapore and teamed up with Ivan Allan and rode a few winners for him in a short stopover there (some sources record the “few” as nine winners in four meetings).

“Ivan said ‘why don’t you stay and spend the season in Singapore and Malaya’. Ivan said he’d sponsor me but when I went to get a licence the Turf Club said I can only be a club jockey. Anyway, I stayed there for three years. I was leading jockey there one year (1978) so I did pretty well.

“Ivan was a brilliant trainer. He didn’t over work his horses up there in the heat. He used to trot them a lot, and when he took them away to race at Ipoh or Penang he’d do all the work with them before they left and then back off them, keep them half fresh.

“Trainers had a lot of problems with “dry coat” up there in the heat and humidity but Ivan seemed to have a way of stopping that happening with his horses. I don’t know what he used to do exactly, but he certainly had a lot of success up there,” he said.

Allan was champion trainer in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore on multiple occasions.

“He also went to England and I think he won the St Leger in 1984 with a horse he owned, Commanche Run. He was a very good trainer Ivan.

“Finally, I finished riding when I was 53. I was having trouble with my hips and I used to go back to Singapore every six weeks to get acupuncture on my hips. Eventually I had to get hip replacements,” he said of a problem common among jockeys.

Hutchinson settled back in Australia in 1989 and has since, just once, returned to England – in 1999.

“Only one year I’ve been back to the UK since. Vodafone invited me over there one year for the Derby. I think I was pretty popular over there. I thought I might stay and get on the first carriage at Ascot. I had a lot of success at Ascot and the Duke Of Norfolk, until just before he died, was The Queen’s representative at Royal Ascot,” he said.

Bernard Marmaduke Fitzalan-Howard, the 16th Duke of Norfolk, was indeed Her Majesty’s representative at Ascot from 1945 – 1972. He was responsible, it’s said, for ordering that women should not wear trousers in the Royal Enclosure. Now, women are permitted to wear trouser suits.

Fitzalan-Howard was wounded early in World War II and then served as agricultural secretary in Winston Churchill’s Cabinet from February 1940 until June 1945.

He organised the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, the funeral of Winston Churchill, and the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales. He was a keen cricket fan and was the manager of the English cricket team in Australia in 1962–63.

“The Queen used to come down and stay with the Norfolks at Arundel and also stay with the Duke Of Richmond next to the racecourse at Goodwood. Because I won the Goodwood Cup for her on Gaulois (1966), Norma and I were lucky enough to be invited to parties at those places after the races,” Hutchinson said. 

“Often throughout those nights, someone would tap me on the shoulder and say ‘Her Majesty would like to talk to you’ and off you’d go and have a little chat.

“I used to go and stay with the Duke and Duchess, say when a young horse was being tried out and I would go and stay the night at Arundel. Get up and go ride work and then come back and have breakfast. I was very lucky with the people I met.” 

Among them was Lady Herries who was the eldest of four daughters of Fitzalan-Howard. Upon his death in 1975, Lady Anne Fitzalan-Howard inherited the Herries of Terregles title, a Scottish Lordship of Parliament.

More pertinently to this story she, of course, trained Taufan’s Melody to win the Caulfield Cup in 1998 and also prepared French Derby winner Celtic Swing who would later sire Australia’s great sprinter Takeover Target.

“Anne was married to the cricketer Colin Cowdrey. I knew her well and her sister Lady Sarah. I caught up with them when they won that Caulfield Cup,” Hutchinson said.

Cowdrey was vice-captain of the England team which the Duke of Norfolk managed, on tour to Australia, in 1962-63. “That was when Colin Cowdrey and Anne met, I believe,” he said.

The Duke of Norfolk reportedly joined the team with three of his daughters and announced “you may dance with my daughters, you may take them out and wine them and dine them, but that is all you may do”.

Michael Colin Cowdrey, Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge, was then married to Penny Chieseman who died in 1985 and that year he married Lady Anne. Cowdrey began the tour poorly but made the highest score of his career (307 in 369 minutes) against South Australia on Christmas Eve (his birthday).

Fred Trueman, in his memoirs, wrote of the Duke’s appointment: “It astounded just about everyone connected with the game. He was a very pleasant man, a true gentleman and a real cricket enthusiast, but he had no track record or qualifications suited to the job to which he had been appointed.

“The very first press conference was overloaded with questions about whether the Duke of Norfolk’s horses would be seen on Australian race tracks. I couldn’t believe it. We were there to contest the Ashes, and there was our tour manager talking about horseracing and whether the jockey Scobie Breasley was to fly out and ride for him. In no time at all the news in the press concerning the England team centred on where the Duke of Norfolk’s horses were running.”