Great Aboriginal Jockeys
In Rural Australia or the Great Outback as the locals call it, the horsemanship skills of the Aborigines are well known and respected. These skills have also been demonstrated on many racetracks throughout the country by some great Aboriginal jockeys. I have selected two outstanding individuals to comment on but there are plenty more.
Peter St Albans
Peter St Albans was born near Geelong in Victoria. He rapidly rose in status from stable boy to champion jockey. After a few rides he found himself in Sydney. His stable was attending the Autumn Carnival with a 2yo filly names Briesis and she was nominated for the 1876 Doncaster Handicap. At the time the best-and still the best- mile race in Australia. Briesis was weighted at 5 stone 7 lbs (77lbs=35kg).and the stable jockey could not make the weight. Enter young 12yo St Albans. Under his guidance, Briesis beat all her older rivals easily.
The Victorian Derby and the Cup
Six months later, Briesis was now a 3yo filly and Peter was still a 12yo jockey. History repeats itself. On Saturday, the first day of the 1876 Melbourne Spring Carnival, Briesis wins the Victorian Derby in record time with stable jockey Tom Hales aboard. It was reported that Briesis time for the mile and a half was the second fastest anywhere in the world. Comes Cup day on Tuesday and the filly gets 6 stone 4lbs (88lbs=40kg). Again the stable jockey can’t make the weight and so Peter St Albans takes the ride. He had to leave his school room and get to Flemington to face a record field of 33 runners. Briesis and Peter win again in record time for the two miler.
Peter St Albans was the first aboriginal jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. These two victories alone show what an accomplished rider he was. Twelve years of age and at a body weight not much above 6 stone, it is incredible to believe that he could win two of Australia’s toughest races even if he was aboard an absolute champion. Peter went on to win other important races. In fact, he almost had back to back wins in the Melbourne Cup when Savanaka failed by half a head to win the 1877 race. Illness and injury forced retirement at the age of seventeen but not until he had notched up 10 wins in races which would probably now be classified as G1.
The remarkable achievements of Briesis have somewhat overshadowed those of Peter St Albans but his feats are no less remarkable.
Rae “ Togo” Johnstone
Rae was born in Newcastle NSW in 1905. His early dream was to play rugby League but at a weight of 4 stone 7 lb (29kg) this was not a dream merely a fantasy. A trip to the Canterbury race track with his father pointed the way forward. Apprenticed to a Sydney trainer he rode his first winner at the age of 15. It was evident to all that even at an early age Rae had tremendous talent as a horseman. Fractious flighty horse became soothed when he was in the saddle and he was an excellent judge of pace and renowned for his come from behind wins.
However, to balance this he was a flamboyant character with supreme confidence in his ability who was not averse to a gamble on his own rides. Such a mixture of personality traits usually comes with difficulties with authority. And so it was with Rae. The stewards handed out penalties with monotonous regularity. Gambling and questionable riding tactics were just some of the charges leveled against him and suspensions of some length were imposed. Nevertheless, when he was riding he had winner after winner. In the jockey’s premiership of 1931-32 he was second to Jim Pike of Phar Lap fame.
Riding in France and England
Feeling that continual brushes with authorities was something he could do without, Rae decided to try his luck overseas. Using his industry contacts, he tossed up between England and France. Paris life was more fitted to his lifestyle and he did not take long to get back to his winning ways on the racetrack. Two years after leaving Australia we won the 1933 French jockeys’ championship.
He continued the playboy high life and gambling habits but these were tempered somewhat when he met and married a beautiful Follies Bergère girl Marie Goube. Success on the track followed him to England where he won both the One Thousand and Two Thousand Guineas. The war interrupted his progress and he chose to remain in France rather than return to Australia. Arrested by the Gestapo he managed to escape while their prisoner en route to Germany. With help from the French Resistance he avoided capture until the end of the war.
The Arc and English Derby
The next 10 or so years were Rae’s most productive in a racing sense. He rode a number of French trained horses to success in England. In 1948 he became the first Australian to win the English Derby on My Love. Two more Derby wins followed on Galcador and Lavendin. In all, Rae had 3ooo winners before he retired in 1957. Added to his Derby successes were three English Oaks, and two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes along with 28 other Classic races.
In his later years he dined only at the best restaurants and was a man of sophisticated tastes in wine and food. He wore the best suits and had his shoes handcrafted. He was reported to be the highest paid sportsman in Europe. Without a doubt he was the best international jockey Australia has ever produced. He also set the ground work for the celebrity sportsmen we see today-but he was better at it than most.
For those interested in the subject of Aboriginal Jockeys I strongly recommend the book by Professor John Maynard Aboriginal Stars of the Turf. It is an excellent read