The Ron Hutchinson story and Aussies abroad (Part 7)
The Ron Hutchinson story and Aussies abroad (Part 7)
After a life in which he has seen racing’s trials and tribulations time and time again, Ron Hutchinson – with the benefit of hindsight – can now look back and reflect on some of the greats of his era.
“Scobie (Breasley) was the best jockey in my opinion but I admit he was my idol,” Hutchinson says. “There were so many top jockeys who rode over there (in England).
“The great Lester Piggott, of course. He was so cool. Nothing flustered him before, during or after a race and he spent a lot of time doing the form. He knew what his horse could do but he also knew his opposition.
“He had great patience and was a very good tactician. I sat with him in the (weighing) room most days and we were friends and I respected him but I have to say he could be pretty ruthless.
“Before him the likes of Darby Munro and Billy Cook were very good and later Neville Sellwood. Darby did try to go (to England) I think but they wouldn’t give him a licence.”
Indeed, as the result of a disqualification which many considered dubious in Melbourne, Munro failed to obtain a licence to ride in England in 1953, but he rode in California and France that year. His brother Jim, whose daughter married Geoff Lewis, rode in Germany and India.
“Sellwood, in my opinion, was an outstanding jockey,” Hutchinson says. “If he hadn’t been killed in France, he would have been an absolute sensation. Even as it was, he did well. He won the Derby for Vincent O’Brien in the year that he was killed in the fall (1962). He would have been the leading rider there for some time, I think.
“His death very much cast a dark shadow over racing at the time. After Neville was killed, Yves Saint-Martin took over as the leading jockey and was a great jockey too.
“I saw some bloody good jockeys in my time overseas. Even in Italy, there was a bloke called Enrico Camici who rode Ribot and he was very good. So was Gino Dettori, Frankie’s father. Gino was a tiny little bloke with a great personality.”
Dettori sr won the 1969 International Stakes at Rosehill aboard Colisee Star with Piggott, Jean Taillard and Masaru Kirata the three other invited jockeys in the race.
“Bill Williamson was another great,” Hutchinson says. “I think Lester (Piggott) once said he was the best. If you were ever sitting in behind Bill Williamson it was agony because he would not go at all. A lot of jockeys get anxious, but not Bill. He would wait and wait and wait.
“You’d have to get going, before you probably wanted to, and get around him to have any chance to beat him. He rarely let his mounts go until the last moment. I’d say he was very, very patient.
“Geoff Lane was very good and obviously Roy Higgins and Harry White were great through the 1960s and 70s in Australia. I remember Higgins came over to France for one season, I think, and had some success. The owner Roy was riding for in France had a lot of horses but not many of them were much good and I don’t think Roy really got the right opportunities that he deserved.
“Harry White came over for a little while as well and would have been a great success had he stayed. He did well for the short time he was over in Europe. Peter Cook also came over for a short time and did well.
“George Moore also, of course, was outstanding. He was a great jock, old George, and then he became a great trainer as well when he went to Hong Kong.
“More recently we saw jockeys like Brent Thomson and Kerrin McEvoy do very well in England and Europe. Thomson won the Ascot Gold Cup and several other very good races.
“McEvoy, he went there early, he’s still young now. He would have done very, very well I think had he stayed in Europe.”
Hutchinson agrees there are some similarities in personality and style between him and McEvoy, while he believes the success of the Australian riders overseas might have been, in part, because of their tactical superiority.
“I think we might have been better with race tactics. We were always taught at home to go the short way, to sneak up on the inside, which I don’t think the English jocks liked at the time – especially if you got up and beat them a head,” he says.
“Don’t worry about the inside, they thought, but in Australia if you let something up on the inside to beat you, you’d never be forgiven.
“I think that taking the shortest way home and working out where the best ground was something we did more than the English and Europeans. I usually walked the track. I know it’s common nowadays but not so much in my time. I’d always walk the track if it was new to me and work out where I’d want to be in the run and where I thought the better ground might be.
“I wouldn’t say we were more aggressive. Scobie (Breasley) would get back on things, give them one hell of a start and would get up and win a head or a neck and the owners were amazed sometimes.
“One day, I saw old Gordon Richards come down from the stands after Scobie had got up on one after giving them half a furlong start and say, ’Scobe, what were you doing there?’
“Then that horse would come out and win again next start. Scobie always saved something for next time. He didn’t give them a race where they could have won by three or four lengths, but he’d just get them home, saving some energy.
“I never changed my style from the time I learnt to ride until I finished. I can’t understand them now with short stirrups and toes in their irons. I’m only going back to what Bobbie Lewis taught me, foot right in the iron. I couldn’t stay on riding like they do today. Just sitting on top of the wither.
“There’s a lot more pressure on their hips these days, which can be a problem. I see that Ben Melham has had his hips done twice. Nick Hall had to give it away. They’re only young blokes. I got my hips done but much later in life, when I was 53 or 54. Three operations on my right hip and one on the left.
“My problems started riding work one morning at Epsom. A horse ran off the dirt track and onto the grass and we collided. I went and had an x-ray with old Bill Giuliano, who was the physio at Collingwood Footy Club, and he said, ‘You are going to have troubles with your hips after this.’
“He used to come and stay with me in England and so did other friends, including Chris Jenkins and Frank Nagle and their wives. Chris was on the VRC committee at one stage. He had a great mind and was a good bloke.” Jenkins died in April 2020.
Hutchinson won more than 1,000 races abroad including the Ascot Gold Cup on Ragstone and the Goodwood Cup on Gaulois for The Queen. He had Classic success in the St Leger (Intermezzo), 1,000 Guineas (Full Dress) and 2,000 Guineas (Martial) in England, plus the Irish 1,000 Guineas three times (Lacquer, Black Satin, Gaily) and the Irish 2,000 Guineas on Kythnos.
His other major race wins included the Sussex Stakes (three times), Lockinge (twice), July Cup (twice), Falmouth Stakes (twice), Queen Anne Stakes (twice), Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, Hardwicke Stakes, Coventry Stakes, Coronation Stakes, Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes, Dewhurst Stakes, Henry II Stakes (three), Doncaster Cup, Britannia Stakes, Dante Stakes, Royal Hunt Cup, the Wokingham, Eclipse Stakes, Ayr Gold Cup, Craven Stakes, Gordon Stakes (4), Richmond Stakes (3), King George Stakes (3), Nassau Stakes, Celebration Mile, March Stakes, National Stakes, Cheveley Park Stakes, Nunthorpe Stakes, Champagne Stakes, Chester Vase, Ormonde Stakes, Dee Stakes, Victoria Cup, Manchester Handicap, Stewards Cup’, Portland Handicap, Italian Derby, Italian 2,000 Guineas and Grosser Preis Von Baden (twice).
“Ragstone gave me the most pleasure”, he says of those international wins. “He was really a mile and a half horse but we won the Ascot Gold Cup over two and a half miles in 1974 for the Duke of Norfolk. It was the Duke’s lifelong ambition to have a horse capable of winning this race. I was proud to have won it for him, not very long before his death.” The Duke died in January 1975.
Hutchinson’s best season numerically was in 1964 when, with 136 winners, he was second to Piggott in the championship.
In 1967, he was the first to reach the 100 mark for the season on October 1, which many papers carried under the headline: ‘HUTCHINSON 100, BREASLEY AND PIGGOTT 99’. Piggott won the title with 117 winners from Hutchinson on 111 and Breasley 109.
At home, a Melbourne Cup eluded Hutchinson as it did Breasley and Moore. He well remembers one that got away in 1959 and another he might have won in 1945.
“Macdougal, now that was a sad story. I won the Brisbane Cup on him and then I won the Metropolitan on him as well. I was booked to ride him in the Melbourne Cup. On the way down from Sydney to Melbourne, after the Metropolitan, he travelled badly in the float and (trainer) Dick Roden told me he may not be able to run in the Cup,” Hutchinson says.
“He’d taken some bark off his legs and there was a bit of a doubt about him running, so in the meantime Bart Cummings heard this and he approached me to ride Trellios. I said to Bart if he wins the Mackinnon, I’ll ride him in the Melbourne Cup.
“Sure enough he wins the Mackinnon but then when I rode Macdougal in the Hotham Handicap, oh I knew I’d pulled the wrong rein so I was devastated because I’d committed myself to Trellios. Macdougal ran a slashing race in the Hotham. Pat Glennon got on Macdougal and, sure enough, they won the Melbourne Cup.
“I knew he would. I remember down the track at Flemington on the Monday and I told (race-caller) Johnny Russell I’ve done the wrong thing. I think Macdougal will win the Melbourne Cup but now I’m not on him. Trellios ran well, he ran alright.
“I remember my heart was in my boots when I looked like having a big chance in the straight but then, soon enough, the horse that went straight past me was Macdougal. I think Trellios might have been one of Bart’s first Melbourne Cup runners. He hadn’t won it, of course, at that stage.”
Trellios, who finished fifth, was indeed just the second Cup runner for the trainer who would win the race 12 times. Macdougal won by three lengths.
“I won a Werribee Cup for Bart on Asian Court but I didn’t ride for him very much. I was Colin Hayes’ jockey in those days, of course, and he had some pretty good horses then like Pandie Sun, and I rode him when he was third in the 1957 Cup,” he continues.
“I got off him (Pandie Sun) to ride something else, maybe Sailor’s Guide, though and Bill Williamson rode him in the famous Hotham Handicap triple dead-heat in 1956.”
Pandie Sun dead-heated with Ark Royal (Reg Heather) and Fighting Force (Jack Purtell). It was the first triple dead-heat following the introduction of the finish camera ten years earlier.
“I did win the 1956 Olympic Cup on Pandie Son, which was run to coincide with the Melbourne Olympics and they haven’t run it since. I think it was also the first time a horse race had been shown live on television in Australia,” Hutchinson says.
In 1945, he finished second on Rainbird in the Caulfield Cup but was not aboard in her Melbourne Cup success as he honoured an earlier commitment to ride Parenva, a 100/1 chance who was well beaten. “I was very disappointed but that’s life,” he says.
Hutchinson also finished third on Morse Code in the 1950 Melbourne Cup and ended his career with three placings from 16 rides in the famous race.
His riding career wound down with his three years in Singapore-Malaysia where he was champion jockey in 1978.
He also ran a bloodstock agency in England which specialised in shipping horses to Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. When his riding career ended he said he would not train as “very few jockeys make good trainers”. However, he did briefly dabble with training.
Hutchinson also acted as racing manager for American billionaire John Kluge, labelled – by Forbes magazine – the wealthiest man in America from 1989 to 1991 and the man who bailed out legendary trainer Tommy Smith when he was facing financial ruin in 1989.
“That job was great but didn’t last too long, about 12 or 18 months. Tommy (Smith) would ring me every morning to tell me how the horses were going. Kluge saved Tommy at the time and I remember he won the Australian Derby in Perth that year (1989) with a horse called Key Dancer,” Hutchinson says.
He has four children – Raymond, Susan, Sally and Peter – and seven grandchildren. Peter was a multiple Group 1 winner as a jockey while Raymond, encouraged by his father and Scobie Breasley, was the leading amateur rider in England for four years.
“All the children have been wonderful and I’ve been blessed to live with Susan and her husband Nick who include me in everything they do,” he says.
Hutchinson returned to Australia permanently on Thursday, December 29, 1988. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Ron Hutchinson Award for riding excellence is presented to the best jockey over the four days of Melbourne Cup week.
He rode winners in 15 countries – Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, France, Scotland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore, Sweden and the USA.
He’s maintained his interest in racing and, in no particular order and without being quizzed on all jockeys, he speaks highly of current riders Damien Oliver, James McDonald and Kerrin McEvoy but also “likes” Blake Shinn and the “little blokes” Dean Yendall and Dean Holland, and has been impressed by new mother Linda Meech.
He counts Bernborough, Todman, Tulloch and Winx as the best horses he’s seen in Australia, and abroad he nominates Mill Reef, Sea-Bird, Dancing Brave and Nijinsky. Like most, he also has a soft spot for Desert Orchid and says Balmerino is the best horse he rode.