Having included an encomium to George Ryder it is only fitting and fair that I incorporate a tribute to Stanley Wootton (STW) as well. With G E Ryder I believe STW was the other most significant figure in the evolution of racing and breeding thoroughbreds in Australia and NSW in particular encompassing the latter part of the 20th century. The story of the Wootton family is a legend in itself. As Bob Charley rightly points out it was actually jockey Frank Wootton who was the inchoate superstar. All this is well documented in Bill Eacott’s: ‘The Wootton Family – Australia to Epsom’ cited by admirable SMH journalist Max Presnell below. Max would know best. His family ran the Doncaster Hotel, Anzac Parade on behalf of the Wootton family for more than a generation.
I was fortunate to have met Stanley Wootton although I can barely claim I knew him well. He was most astute. He actually had a profound effect on both my personal and professional life. I still retain a letter I received dated 14th October 1974 from his home at Treadwell House, Epsom Surrey, England. In the letter he thanked me for my congratulations on ‘Bletchingly’s win recently: ‘This is a very nice horse and I believe will make a good sire one day’. He did! ‘Bletchingly’ (Biscay ex Coogee Am.) became a champion sire three times based at Widden Stud. On the strength of STW’s recommendation I bought a share. I had to borrow the money from a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling Methodist lay-preaching Bank Manager. The rest as they say in the classics is history. Interestingly ‘Bletchingly’ was the only champion sire he actually bred. He will forever be associated with importation of his grandsire Star Kingdom.
I will leave the soliloquy on STW to the erudite Max Presnell. The image accompanying this vignette says it all: Gentleman of the turf … Stanley Wootton with ‘Todman’ left his mark on the Australian racing scene.
Wootton was a class apart: Max Presnell Date: June 19, 2011
The straight left was delivered with purpose and accuracy by Stanley Wootton, one of the great gentlemen of the Australian or any other turf, and the target fell back onto his chair. Wootton adjusted his cuffs and excused him: ”He is either drunk or mad.”
It had been a good lunch until Frank Wootton wanted to check the authenticity of a guest, nicknamed ”The Boxer”. Now you don’t get a tag like that for being a butterfly fancier but Wootton, mad, bad and dangerous, called him outside. Brother Stanley took a hand and The Boxer, fortunately, remained in his corner.
With Royal Ascot just completed the question can be asked: who was the best Australian jockey to ride there? Scobie Breasley quickly comes to mind, but some might say George Moore, Togo Johnston or Edgar Britt.
However, the feats of Frank Wootton, a genius on horseback, dwarfed them. In 1912 he rode seven winners at the Royal Ascot meeting. Alas, at ground level he fell well short of his brother Stanley. Never were two brothers so unalike. Stanley was given the accolade of having ”his father’s brains and a bit more”. By this time the patriarch, Richard, owned half of Kensington alongside Randwick racecourse with the Doncaster Hotel the jewel in the Australian crown, but this wealth was overwhelmed by the family’s British holdings, including Epsom Downs where they received fees for every horse trained there. The punt, too, was a strong contributor to the fortune.
Stanley, a big contributor to Australian racing by importing the great stallion Star Kingdom, was regarded as one of the most wealthy and influential on the British turf but had outgrown the saddle early. Frank, though, born and groomed for greatness by his father, was a wild child who never grew up.
According to Bill Eacott’s The Wootton Family – Australia To Epsom Frank was not permitted a decent meal in his youth for fear of putting on weight. Frank was taken to South Africa by his father at the age of eight, rode his first winner at nine when Richard planned a first-up killing with Centurion in the 1903 Goldfields Cup at Johannesburg. Frank was nine years and 10 months and Dick secured a special amateur’s licence for him to ride.
Bookies put up 50/1. On the day, the trainer picked up Frank from school to land the plunge. Frank was regarded as the youngest jockey in the world to ride a winner at a registered race meeting.
But his father was constantly seeking new horizons and Richard took 12-year-old Frank and the family to Great Britain with the plan to make him the best jockey in the world. Frank, only 14 when he won the Cesarewitch on Demure, was advised to model his style on the American Danny Maher. In 1912 he came in second to Maher in the jockeys’ premiership with 129 winners but blitzed him the following season to take the title with 165.
The Wootton boys were getting homesick, so a kangaroo was imported to the family property, Treadwell House, on Epsom Downs, and Frank played on the British public’s infatuation with his background.
”I keep a kangaroo in the garden and spar three rounds with it every morning before riding out,” he quipped. By 16 he was earning more money than a British cabinet minister. Frank was the champion jockey in four successive seasons and only four others, Steve Donoghue, Sir Gordon Richards, Lester Piggott and Pat Eddery, were able to achieve the feat. However, he did it before he was 20. By 1913 Frank was losing a battle against increasing weight, yet at the end of his flat career he had 4000 rides for 912 successes and was placed at more than 50 per cent of his engagements.
Apart from his weight problems, Frank’s career was limited due to regular suspensions; the opposition constantly wailed: ”Wootton knocked me down.”
Folklore has it that a rival made the bleat to a trainer only to be told: ”That would be difficult because he’s not here today. He just rode two winners for Lord Derby at Ripon.”
During World War I, Frank followed Stanley into service and joined the Anzac forces in the Middle East, receiving a mention in dispatches. On his return, Frank took out a licence to ride as a National Hunt jockey. In five years he rode almost 200 winners, mainly over hurdles. In 1921 he was champion National Hunt jockey, the only rider in turf history to be champion under both codes. He later trained more than 200 National Hunt winners until 1932.
Gradually, Frank’s behaviour became more unruly. He would go out for a drink and not return for days. The family wanted him in Australia to dry out. He boarded the boat at Southampton, but a week later was back in London at his regular haunts. Finally he was taken home. He died in Sydney on April 4, 1940.
The constant wasting, nasty falls and the booze had taken their toll far more than Stanley’s straight left.