The Ron Hutchinson story and Aussies abroad (Part 6)
Enjoying every moment of his international success
Ron Hutchinson, despite the many dining invitations he was afforded through his racing connections and which he rarely declined, had little trouble with his weight but admires – then and now – the jockeys for whom weight management is a constant struggle.
“As people seem to be getting bigger now, jockeys have to be dedicated these days to keep their weight down. Always have been I suppose but more so now. Keep off the grog.
“I admired Lester Piggott. At the time, he was quite tall for a jockey and had to watch his weight all the time. He was trying to ride 8st 3lb (52 kilograms) – when he should’ve naturally been walking around ten stone (63.5 kilograms). He was dedicated all his life.
“If he let himself go for just a day or two he’d put on a couple of kilos just like that. He didn’t eat very much. In the jockey’s room, for instance, they’d put on sandwiches and things but I never saw Lester ever eat anything at the races.
“He’d get a drink, fill it up and drink a couple of mouthfuls and put it down and walk away. He’s still pretty good now, he’d be eighty something, I believe he swims most days and he still looks pretty good,” Hutchinson said of his champion rival who turned 84 on November 5 2020.
“I didn’t have to worry,” Hutchinson said of his own weight, “I could do 7st 12lb (50 kilograms) comfortably, get down to 7st 8lb (46 kilograms) if I had to. Fortunately my wife was very good. If I had a light ride coming up with a couple of weeks notice, she’d put me on a strict diet.”
The diet may have been broken by sharing a champagne, on occasions, with Scobie Breasley as the two were chauffeured home from the races and broken by the camaraderie among so many of his countrymen.
Hutchinson, the multiple Classic winner and runner-up to Piggott in the 1964 and 1967 Jockeys’ Championship, has a treasured photo of seven Australian jockeys riding in England. They were Bill Williamson, Jack Purtell, Garnet Bougoure, Breasley, Billy Pyers, Eddie Cracknell and Hutchinson.
His photo is captioned “all seven rode in the Derby – Wednesday 3rd June 1964” which Breasley won on Santa Claus. All, bar Cracknell, rode a classic winner.
Six Australians rode in the1966 Derby which Breasley won, at Hutchinson’s expense, on Charlottown. They were joined by Des Lake, Williamson, Russ Maddock and Bougoure. George Moore made it four straight Derbies for the Australians in 1967 after Breasley’s wins in 1964 and 1966 and Pat Glennon’s win in 1965. It was five for the decade, adding Neville Sellwood’s success in 1962.
It was a grand life for all, it seems. “It was a fantastic time to be there,” said Hutchinson who was a pioneer of light plane travel to the races.
“It was a glamorous lifestyle. In all my time over there, I never thought of it as going to work. Honestly, it wasn’t work for me. I enjoyed every moment. We’d get in a plane and fly from Brighton to Wolverhampton for the night meeting and finish at nine o’clock.
“Then we’d come home by car, a driver would come and pick us up and we’d be home by midnight. The single engine planes, which often took us there, were not allowed to fly at night.
“The afternoon meetings would start at 2 pm or 2.30 and be finished at five. Very sensible. Old Scobe had a Rolls Royce, he lived like a King, old Scobe. Registration plate was SB 53. He had a chauffeur and always on the way home, there was a bottle of Dom Perignon. He enjoyed life and I wasn’t far behind him. He was a lovely man.
“Life was pretty good. The racing people loved entertaining and you were generally made to feel very comfortable. There’s something special about the dinner party over there. They’re different. Whatever it is, it has a different atmosphere and the conversation flows.
“And on the track you had great meetings like Glorious Goodwood. Goodwood is great. Obviously more casual than, say Royal Ascot, with everyone there in their panama hats. It’s like a party.
“I loved Goodwood. Won that Goodwood Cup on Gaulois for the Queen. Rode four winners there to be leading jockey in 1961 and won the Sussex Stakes three times, the first in 1963 on Queen’s Hussar for Lord Carnarvon and won it again in 1965 and 1966,” he said.
Hutchinson’s recollections and a 1964 Women’s Weekly story, on Ernie Fellows, illustrated how feted Australians were at the time and outlined that a glamorous life-style was an attraction as alluring as the money. “Fellows was a training sensation in France,” Hutchinson recalled.
The story, under the headline “Life With The Millionaires” detailed the exploits of Australian trainer Fellows in France and noted that – aside from all the colonials riding in England – that Chantilly then was also home permanently or casually to Australian jockeys George Moore and Athol Mulley “with Billy Pyers about to arrive”.
It noted too, sadly, that next door to Fellows was “the three-storeyed dream home of the late Neville Sellwood who was killed in a race fall at Maisons-Lafitte two years earlier. It’s empty now”.
“To talk to Ernie Fellows you’d never dream he is Australia’s most successful racehorse trainer,” the magazine reported, “or that he lives with his family in France’s “Racing Row” at Chantilly, just out of Paris. Or that he trains horses for seven millionaires. He is and does.
“The unassuming Sydney trainer who “can’t be bothered learning French” gambled the lot four years ago when he quit Australia to try his luck over here. With patience and the right brand of luck he has struck it rich.”
Fellows, the story noted, lived with his wife Mavis, daughter Susan and then 14-year-old son John (who would later train with success in France and who’s now in Australia) on Chantilly’s “swanky” Avenue de Joinville – “a stone’s throw from the Aga Khan and at the back of their home stands that of Marcel Boussac, head of French rac-ng’s famous Société d’Encouragement. Up the street stands the home of Guy de Rothschild, the world’s first name when banks are spoken of.”
Fellows, it said, had even installed private traffic lights in Chantilly, with his own key to work them, so that his horses could cross the road in complete safety.
Fellows began his career as a trackwork jockey with Phar Lap’s trainer Harry Telford at Braeside, in Melbourne, in the 1930s. When Telford gave up the lease on the Braeside property in 1940, he passed his famous “Tonic Book” onto Fellows.
The 82-page notebook has recipes for tonics and ointments for racehorses, with 28 in Telford’s hand, and another two added by Fellows. The ingredients included arsenic, strychnine, belladonna, cocaine and caffeine.
Phar Lap’s strapper Tommy Woodcock later said he would drain most of the tonics rather than follow Telford’s full dose instructions. It is claimed, though, that Woodcock confessed just before his death that he thought he may have poisoned Phar Lap (who died mysteriously in April 1932) by incorrectly administering one of the tonics which contained arsenic.
The tonic book was passed on to John Fellows and sold to the Melbourne Museum, for $37,000, in 2008.
Fellows senior, whose brother Billy won the 1949 Melbourne Cup on Foxzami and whose father Ernest was Professor of the Trumpet at the Sydney Conservatorium and also trained, combined with Australian jockey Pyers in his biggest successes in Europe – notably, in 1964, the 2,000 Guineas and Champion Stakes with Baldric and the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, that year, with Nasram.
Son John employed Williamson on Bold Fascinator in the 1971 French 1,000 Guineas and Gary Moore, whom his mother had described as “like a son to us” after his move to Chantilly, on Escalate in the 1983 French Oaks.
“As far as I know, I am still the youngest trainer to win a Classic in racing history,” said Fellows junior in a 2020 interview.
Hutchinson, somewhat surprisingly, did not ride the winner of a current Group 1 in France, but enjoyed the cosmopolitan European racing life with Group 1 victories in Italy and Germany, to complement his success in England and Ireland.
He was denied the 1967 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe by just a neck when his fast finishing mount Salvo failed to overhaul Pyers on 82-1 chance Topyo. Lester Piggott’s mount Ribocco was a short head back in third.
In 1977, he rode the great New Zealander Balmerino but again had to be content with the Arc second prize behind Piggott on Alleged, who would win again the follow-ng year. At the time, Hutchinson said that Balmerino had just needed a little further. “He was wearing him down,” he said.
“He was a champion for sure, Balmerino. Only rode him four times but he’s probably the best horse I ever rode,” he said.
Hutchinson won the Valdoe (Select) Stakes on Balmerino at Goodwood before the Arc. He then “won” the Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club e Coppa d’Ora in Milan before being relegated to second place, on protest, and then finished fourth in the Washington International, after which Hutchinson announced his retirement.
The retirement was more accurately a departure from riding in England and Europe, a time which he certainly did not regret.
“Every day was different over there, here it was Flemington or Caulfield most of the time. There you could be riding at Epsom one day and the next day you’d be in Europe.
“You committed to stay there for a good length of time and almost every jockey was happy to do so. It was unheard of in days gone by for jockeys just to fly in for a couple of meetings like James McDonald and Kerrin McEvoy did at Ascot (in 2019).
“And Damian Lane riding in Japan, they wouldn’t have let you into Japan in my time or even not so long ago.
“I was happy to be in England and Europe. I was lucky enough to be in the position to meet so many lovely people. Met a lot of interesting people, actors and actresses, like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and others like Barnes Wallis who invented the bouncing bomb and Bill Stirling who was the top British commando,” he said.