Hall Of Fame 2015:
Veteran jockey Robert Thompson honoured to join racing’s most exclusive club
For the purposes of this post Robert Thompson belongs to the Hunter Valley. If we stretch it a bit further we’ll say the Upper Hunter? He’s actually from Cessnock but he does ride a lot at both Muswellbrook and Scone.
Robert was virtually born into the saddle. His mother Phyllis is the daughter of Cessnock-based legendary trainer Norm Collins. Father Arthur was his stable foreman and now an established champion trainer in his own right. His wife Jenny is the daughter of long term Newcastle Jockey Club Steward, NJC CEO and GM of the original Newcastle Hunter & Central Coast Racing Association Bob Dawbarn.
In addition Robert is a true gentleman. His grandfather Norm Collins and father-in-law Bob Dawbarn did not always see eye-to-eye on matters of interpretation of the Rules of Racing! The dialogue was not always befitting of the appellation ‘gentleman’. They were interesting times for me on the Board of the HNCCRA!
Robert Thompson described his induction in the Hall of Fame as the biggest race he’s ever won. Together with fellow rider Glen Boss the two champion jockeys were among the 2015 inductees announced on the Gold Coast in May 2015.
Thompson, then 57, is the only jockey to ride more than 4000 winners in Australian racing history and he is still riding as well as ever.
“It was a big surprise, a tremendous honour,’’ Thompson said. “I’ve ridden a lot of winners in my career but this is the biggest race I’ve ever won.
“My wife Jenny, our two sons, my mother and sister were at the ceremony so it was a night I’ll never forget.’’
At the time I compose this ‘blog’ Robert is still firing on all cylinders and has now posted more than 4250 winners. He turns 60 next year (2018). I’m sure I’ll be adding to this record in the years to come.
The best recent report I could find appeared on a NZ website before the running of the Wellington Cup in January 2017.
Australian jockey Robert Thompson, with 4258 wins and counting, to ride in Wellington Cup
Last updated 18:28, January 19 2017
Last updated 18:28, January 19 2017
Robert Thompson will ride Pop ‘N’ Scotch in the Wellington Cup on Saturday.
At Trentham on Saturday a wiry jockey with a bit of a limp and the face of of someone who’s been around for a while will be legged up on to one of the runners in the Wellington Cup.
Been around for a while? Robert Thompson has had a career spanning 44 years, riding mostly in country New South Wales in Australia. He started riding as a jockey when he was 14.
Yes, he’s 58. But the bigger number is his win count. It’s hard to find the correct figure online, but he knows it, because he details his rides in an ever-expanding number of exercise books.
So when he rode a horse called Happy to win at country course Taree on Tuesday, it was win number 4258. How many rides in those 44 years? “Roughly? About 27,000,” he says somewhat bashfully.
No one in Australia or New Zealand has ridden more winners. He is a champion in the NSW country scene, and well respected when he’s called upon to ride in big races Sydney or Brisbane. He’s even had a ride in the Melbourne Cup. But the country is his go.
He’s based just out of Cessnock, a former mining town in the Hunter Valley, now renowned for its wines. He comes from a racing family, his grandfather was a trainer, his father was stable foreman and his uncles were trainers.
The family ties and love of racing are steep and it explains why Thompson hasn’t sought the bright lights of Sydney or Melbourne as a base.
“I was born at the stables,” he says. “It’s my home here.”
He was a gun apprentice – riding 499 winners before he was 21 – but unlike many he didn’t crash and burn. He’s been a professional all his life, rarely in trouble in the stewards’ room. An article a couple of years back said it had been 5614 rides since his last suspension – another big number that would stun inquiry room regulars. He says trainers have been loyal to him. Loyalty is a two-way street and it’s one of the reasons why he is respected so much.
His talents have been rewarded with an Order of Australia medal and admission to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. He’s popular with punters; the form lines regularly advise: “Thompson rides, so respect” and he’s won a stack of country cups, most several times. His local Cessnock club has a race called the Jungle Juice Cup and he’s won it 12 times – which is Bart Cummings Melbourne Cup territory. He’s even won a race at Newcastle called the Robert Thompson Cup. Now that is fame.
It’s a dangerous game, as New Zealanders know only too well with the recent death in a race fall of Southland jockey Rebecca Black. Thompson is an advocate for rider safety and helps out youngsters with advice willingly. He says he’s been lucky with only six or seven falls in those 44 years. His worst injury was a compound ankle fracture, which took him out of the game for over two years while it mended.
He was 45 then – did he think about giving the game away? “Yes, there were times I did, but as it healed I got more determined to get back.”
Even at 58, living mostly on a salad diet and admitting that his 100,000km a year mileage to and from races is a bit of a drag, he’s not ready to give up. “I’m in the twilight stage of my career but I’m still loving riding and wouldn’t swap it. It’s better than waving a stop/go sign.”
He says he’s looking forward to riding at Trentham for the first time. He has a long friendship with Queensland trainer Liam Birchley and has often ridden his horse Pop ‘N’ Scotch, who lines up in the Wellington Cup.
What chance in the cup? “Well, he’s no star, but two miles (the cup distance) is his go. If you can catch him on his right day, he can bob up.”
Maybe it will be win number 4259.
Robert Thompson Retires
It is indeed a tribute to Robert Thompson that, although he has won more races than any other jockey in Australia, his elevated standing in the sport has as much to do about the type of person he is than it has to do with his achievements on the track.
Fair to say, they don’t make them like Robert Thompson any more.
Never an attention seeker, Thompson blazed his trail in his own particular way.
His ruthless competitiveness on the track was matched by his unwavering nerve, unerring judgement and riding skills of the highest order, all honed over the years into the winning machine that he would become on the way to totalling a record 4447 race winners.
Words like ‘legend’ and ‘role model’ are often misplaced.
Not with Robert Thompson.
His record alone puts him in the legendary league … but it is when role model is added to the personal description that, arguably, he stands tallest of all.
Quiet … ever humble … and gracious, Thomson is the personification of a true sporting professional and the impression he made on everybody he met has been consistent with those values.
Even when he officially announced his retirement after forty-eight years in the saddle, there was no ‘look at me’ stance, just a quiet confirmation that he had called time on his great career.
Thompson was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame 2015, the same year in which he received the Member of the Order of Australia (AM), honours well-deserved.
From taking his first ride in April 1973 to his last ride in July 2021, it has been a remarkable journey by a remarkable man to whom racing is indebted.
Jockey Robert Thompson has retired at the end of a stellar 49 year riding career, reports racingnsw.com.au. The 63-year-old jockey hasn’t ridden since July 3, 2021 and had planned to ride in the Cairns Amateurs event in September but COVID prevented him from travelling. “Twelve months ago I knew I had one more round in me with all the travelling and the wasting,” Thompson said. “After 49 years I’ve had a good innings, I knew it had come to an end. When I couldn’t get up there (to Cairns) that put the final nail in.” Thompson has ridden an Australian record of 4,447 winners, with his first ride in April 1973. “I was only 14 and 9 months old at the time,” he revealed.
His first win came within the same month on It’s Regal (Epistle-Duchess Belle, by Brentloch) at Wyong. Thompson won seven Group 1 races, but the race that holds a special part in his heart is the Jungle Juice Cup at Cessnock, a race he won eleven times. His first win was in 1982 on Top Hat Joe (George Spelvin-Glamorama, by Bellborough), trained by his father Arthur. “A lot of people don’t believe me but I actually rode the horse to the races that day and it won the Cup a few hours later. It played up that badly on the truck dad had to take him off and he said, ‘You better throw the saddle on and ride him over’.
We lived the other side of town but as the crow flies it was only about two and a half miles to the track. I had to ride him through the open cut and through the bush. He didn’t play up coming home, he got on the truck and got a ride home.” Thompson regards Gr1 Goodwood Handicap winner Romantic Dream (Baguette-Star Song, by Rhythmic Light) as the best horse he’s ridden.