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The Story Of Scobie Breasley

Shortly before his death at the age of 92, world renowned Australian jockey, Scobie Breasley, was giving an interview for BBC radio, reminiscing over a lifelong career in horse racing. After the only-to-be-expected simple questions, his interviewer then asked him the question as to what advice he would give to any young jockey just beginning a life on the track

Scobie Breasley after winning the Derby aboard Santa Claus

His response was to explain that any young man interested in such a career was to always remember “there’s more to it than simply sitting on a saddle! (perhaps a reference to some of the dubious events which circulated in his back story – or not!) and “You don’t win at the races just by encouraging your mount to shift its’ backside!” Though such words may seem a little simplistic in todays’ modern age, the philosophy behind them served Breasley well, establishing him as one of Australia’s all-time great jockeys.

Arthur Edward Breasley, universally known throughout the sport as “Scobie” in reference to his slavish devotion to the top Australian trainer, Jim Scobie, was born the sixth of seven children in 1914, in Wagga Wagga in New South Wales in the interwar years. Leaving school at the age of twelve, he sought out a job at the local stables as an odd-job lad, and then shortly after signed to an apprenticeship with a Melbourne trainer, Pat Quinlan. For one so young, success came quickly and Scobie rode his first winner at a mere fourteen years of age – a steed called Noogee, at the Werribee track in Victoria.

Breasley was considered a determined, almost a win-at-all-costs ruthless rider whose favourite tactic was to take up position on the rails as soon as possible and hold it for the entire race. However, this tactic was to blight his first major success. Thanks to his growing reputation, he was selected to ride Cragford in the Sydney Metropolitan Cup in 1946 and duly obliged with a win, despite much criticism from the local racing intelligentsia to the effect that entrusting such a major race to one so young was a mistake. Having their “knowledge” shown to be faulty, the stewards of the track, however, had their revenge and suspended Breasley for two weeks for “crossing to the rails too sharply” Such penalties were a not infrequent occurrence in his career and when he moved to the UK – more of which in a moment – it seemed at times that he was in direct competition with another giant of the track, Lester Piggot, as to who could rack up the most penalties – both of them being well known for their single minded desire to win every race.

UK Racing - Winning Second Time Round

Breasley first tried his luck in the UK in 1951, at a time when he had won every major race in Australia except the Melbourne Cup – a prize that was to elude him throughout his career- and had formed the opinion that one of the local stewards in Melbourne had taken against him, believing him to be a dishonest rider. The move unfortunately did not go well His wife could not settle to the variable British weather and a selection of mounts who did not come up to his exacting standards, resulted in the Breasleys coming home after a season. However, they were lured back two years later by the promise of better-quality mounts and a London base – a house was purchased in Putney in London and this became the Breasleys main home for the next thirty years.

The following season, having settled into the comfort of a permanent home, Breasley led the field home in the 1000 Guineas on the filly, Festoon, shortly before a possible career ending fall took him off the track for an extended period. The accident happened in a race of little significance at the Alexandra Palace track in London, and left him with a fractured skull, both eyes paralysed and his sense of balance totally destroyed. Nevertheless, with the fierce determination for which he was famed and with the help of Australian golfer, Norman van Nida, who took him to play golf every day for a month, he regained his sense of balance and was back in the saddle inside three months. The year 1955, the season when Breasley resumed his riding career in full fitness and in top form proved to be something of a watershed for him and his achievements on the track.

A Royal Rivalry - Lester Piggot

At the end of the 1954 season, Sir Gordon Richards, the queens’ jockey had retired, having won the title of champion jockey for twenty four of the previous twenty six seasons. According to all informed opinion, this left the way clear for Scobie to assume the mantle and make the crown of champion jockey his own. Sadly, this did not come to pass until the 1957 season due to the arrival on the scene of a young and very determined British jockey – Lester Piggot – which was to mark the beginning of a fifteen year long bitter rivalry between the two. Piggot had won his first Derby at the age of only seventeen and in many ways his meteoric rise in jockeys lists mirrored the same prodigious path which had seen Breasley come to the top.

Their confrontations on the track became the stuff of legends. Both jockeys liked to ride on the inside, in any race where both of them were riding it was possible to watch as one monitored the progress of the other through the field, and frequently there were “accidental” bumps designed to hinder the progress of the opponent. Perhaps the single most significant point in the feud occurred in a minor race at a track in the north of England. Breasleys’ mount was one of no great power nor pedigree, a mere also-ran making up the numbers in the field. Piggot was riding a horse with a tremendous burst of pace which would carry him past Breasley in the final furling and on into the winner's enclosure. Other jockeys in the race reported hearing Piggot cry out, as he scorched past Breasley “move over, Grandad, and get yourself a bathchair!” As might be imagined, this did not go down well and the rivalry became even more bitter.

Between 1956 and his retirement from the track in 1968, Breasley was the first choice jockey for Sir Gordon Richards, who had turned his hand, and his skill and experience, to training, and it was with Richard’s stewardship that he won his first Champion Jockey title in 1958. The 1963 season, however was to prove the most exciting in the contest to become king of the track. As the last day of the season arrived, Piggot and Breasley could not be separated, each having won 175 races, but Breasley was to end the day triumphant. In the next to last race on the card, in a very ordinary meeting with little worthy of mention on the program, Breasley rode home the winner, giving him a total of 176 winners for the season and the title of Champion Jockey once again! The title has never again gone down to such a close finish and is unlikely to do so.

The Epsom Derby - Santa Claus

At the peak of his riding career, Breasley could not stop riding winners. In 1966 he was the winning jockey in the Epsom Derby on Charlottown, repeating his triumph from two years earlier when he brought home Santa Claus in first place. Controversy was to haunt this win, however, in the shape of allegations which stirred memories of rumours from his early career in Australia. Santa Claus was a horse which he had ridden to victory several times before and as a result his mount started the race as a very short priced favourite, expected to win in a canter.

Shortly before the race began, whispers began to percolate through the crowds that Breasley had been “encouraged” by a bookmaker not to try too hard as a Santa Claus victory would prove very expensive. At the halfway point, the horse appeared to be labouring, with little chance of making the first three, let alone winning, and the whispers grew in volume. And then, as if by magic, Santa Claus appeared to find another gear, roared through the field and did, indeed come home with the rest of the field trailing in his wake! Interestingly, and despite the fact that Breasley had done what was asked of him in winning the race, the two were never paired again in a race.

Despite this apparent snub from the horses' owner, Breasley went on to ride winners with great frequency, both in minor races and in the classics. One of his “favourite” mounts was an Irish horse by the name of Ballymoss. Riding Ballymoss, he racked up wins in the Eclipse Stakes at Ascot, the King George VI and Queen ELizabeth stakes, also at Ascot and, perhaps his greatest victory after the Epsom Derby, the Prix de L’Arc de Triumph at Longchamps in Paris. In total in his career as a jockey, Breasley rode more than 3000 winners overall, with more than 1000, including four wins in the Caulfield Cup, in his native Australia. During his time in Britain, he was Champion jockey four times, in 1957 as mentioned earlier, and from 1961 through 1963 continuously, and in every season from 1955 to 1968 he was successful in over 100 rides.

After reaching the end of his career in the saddle, Breasley took on the role of trainer, with stables in the UK, France, the USA and Barbados, where he later made his home. Even in this role, rumours and whispers continued to circulate without real foundation, now prompted possibly by no more than jealousy from his rivals. Nevertheless, there was some cause for concern when one of his daughters married the son of a well-known bookmaker and how this might “influence” his activities. No charges were ever brought against Breasley and the rumours and whispers remained no more than that, with nothing ever proven. Yet controversy was never far away, and in 1976 Breasley was obliged to close his operations in France when a doping scandal was revealed, although nothing was ever directly attributed to the man himself.

Jockey, Trainer, Australian Hall Of Famer

Despite his successes in the saddle, life as a trainer proved to be more of a challenge, and an equally successful career in this aspect of the sport eluded him. Regrettably, he could not produce a similar string of champion horses, winning only one classic, the Irish Sweeps Derby, in 1972 with Steel Pulse. In his later years Breasley and his wife began to spend more and more time at their holiday home/stud in Barbados and when, in 1993 for the fourth consecutive time, his horse won the local Gold Cup, he decided his time with racing had reached the winning post, rest on his laurels, and together with his wife he retired and returned to Melbourne.

On his return to the scene of many of his triumphs, the Victoria authorities, in 1996, best jockey in the state, and in final recognition of the man’s greatness, Breasley became the first person to be inducted in to Australian Racings’ Hall of Fame. A fitting final comment to a life on the track. Breasley sadly passed away in December 2006 and will be remembered by many as the little jockey who was an Australian Giant!

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