Browsings in the top paddock... By John Costello
Many milkshakes ago - about 50 years worth of milkshakes, if the truth be told - I found myself in a group who were having a few Friday beers in the Matamata Hotel, discussing trainers and whether former jockeys were likely to have an advantage in the training caper over guys who had never ridden in races.
They certainly had the advantage, in the earlier training years at least, of being able to ride their own work. But had they absorbed the lessons of all-round stockmanship that they might have learned from the trainers they rode for?
I remember offering the suggestion - rather cheekily, since I’d been in the game longer than five minutes but less than five years - that it was not just jockeys in general but ex-jumps jockeys in particular who made the best trainers.
This was based, I think, on the rather sparse sample that Bill Ford and Jack Winder, both former jumps jockeys, were then much admired trainers at Matamata and Cambridge respectively. Admired, I should perhaps say, by the public and their peers, rather than by TIA (Those In Authority); both men were not long back from suspensions, Bill for his peripheral role in the notorious Waikato jumping ring, Jack for his part in the Rising Fast saga.
Since both men are long gone, I should point out that Bill Ford’s role in the hurdle ring was indeed minor and his suspension relatively light; Jack Winder vowed that he’d never tried to pull Rising Fast up, and that if he’d wanted to he wouldn’t have put “a dopey kid” on to do the job - a reference to the unfortunate apprentice Ray Salisbury, whose abysmal display on Rising Fast in the Te Awamutu Cup put the cat among the figurative pigeons.
Anyway, I don’t remember the ex-jockeys/non-jockeys debate reaching any firm conclusion, becoming rather circular as pub debates often do.
The occasion nevertheless came to mind recently when I called on my sometime colleague and long-time friend Jim Knight for a cup of coffee. Knighty had been scribbling names on a pad while waiting for me to show up and, when we’d settled in he showed it to me.
There were two columns, actually, left and right, and they read as follows:
On the left: Murray Baker, Bill Sanders, Ray Verner, John Wheeler, Roger James, Michael Pitman, Lisa Latta, Karen Zimmerman, Dave Wilson, Ken Kelso, Graeme Rogerson, Mark Oulaghan, Allan Sharrock, Fred Smith, Tim Douglas, Ivan Robinson, Clyde Conway, Ray Wallace, Alex Cook, Mike Moroney.
And on the right: Colin Jillings, Dave O’Sullivan, Jim Gibbs, Noel Eales, Trevor McKee, Eric Temperton, Bill Winder, George Cameron, Jack Winder, Merv Ritchie, Bill Ford, Bill Hillis, Arthur Didham, Donna Logan, Sid Brown, Ivan Tucker, Alan Jones.
And in a separate group underneath, each name with a question mark: Eric Ropiha, Rex Cochrane, Ted Winsloe, Ray Cotter, Brian Deacon.
I peered at the lists.
Trainers, obviously. (Yep, from J.A.K.)
Good trainers. (Yep)
Some long dead, some still training. (Yep)
But that was as far as I got. Jim had to point out the key.
The ones on the right had been jockeys before they became trainers. The ones on the left had not. And the separate group, with the question marks, Jim wasn’t sure about.
The lists are, of course, incomplete. Jim was, in fact, still scribbling as I drove up and I suggested a few as we looked over the names.
Some names we added pretty much instantly. Graeme Sanders, for example, went in with his father Bill; G.K. trained in partnership with his Dad through the family’s premiership-dominating years in the 1970s, trained successfully on his own afterwards and in more recent years brought a third generation, his daughter Debbie and son Mark, into alternating partnerships. Similarly Paul O’Sullivan was in partnership with his father Dave during the family’s dominating years in the premiership, and Paul has since trained successfully in Hong Kong.
Graeme Sanders goes on the non-jockeys side with his dad. Paul, rather interestingly, doesn’t join his father on the ex-jockeys list but is over on the left. Though not much different in stature to his champion jockey brother Lance, Paul never had any ambition to be a jockey. Training was always his aim in life.
While we’re on family additions, Merv Ritchie’s son Frank should be in there, on the same side since Frank rode for a while over fences (and not nearly as badly as he will usually tell you). Frank’s son Shaune didn’t ride in races before joining the training ranks so he’s across on the left. And Baggy Hillis and his son Wayne should both go in, on the same side as Uncle Bill.
The question mark names? Well, Eric Ropiha rode at shows and rodeos but not, I’m pretty sure, in races. I’m almost sure, as well, that Rex Cochrane, Ray Cotter and the lanky Brian Deacon were never jockeys. About Ted Winsloe I’m not sure.
Allowing that the lists are nowhere near complete, and are somewhat biased towards the Waikato and Auckland region since that is where Jim and I have both plied our trade all these many years, there does seem a slight numerical loading towards the left.
And, though this is about as rigorously scientific as the evidence for the Hairy Man of Coramandel, it would be understandable if this was the case. Going back over the past 100 years, many of our top jockeys - Bill Broughton, Bert Ellis, Grenville Hughes, Norm Holland, David Peake, to name a few - never turned to training after they finished race riding. They'd made enough money as the top jocks they were to simply retire.
Finally, lists with no specific criteria are risky because there will always be those – dozens of them in this case – who will be upset because they have credentials just as good as some of those mentioned. So, once again, these are random lists with no special criteria other than that the people mentioned were good trainers.
No slight to those not mentioned – and if you’re still upset, blame J.A.K.