Every year The Cox Plate produces many wonderful stories of victory and jubilation, leaving their mark in racing folklore. Only the best triumph and go on to be legends of their time.
This week we remember not just some of the champion Horses who have won the Cox Plate, but also a jockey who’s name is synonymous with the Weight-For-Age Classic.
Brent Thomson, better known as “The Babe’ after his youthful and boyish looks, was a champion apprentice in New Zealand, but in 1975 his services would be required in Melbourne for non other than the Cox Plate. The request came from New Zealand trainer Wally McEwan who wanted Thomson to ride his NZ Derby Winner Fury’s Order in the race. Thomson accepted as he was ready to try his luck in the biggest race of his life.
At the tender age of 17, and in his first attempt at Cox Plate glory, Thomson would battle atrocious weather conditions and a bog track to claim his first Cox Plate. He would then return in 1977 to ride “Family of Man” in the same race for trainer George Hanlon. Hanlon rated the horse as the best he had trained and the WFA champion would not disappoint. Family of Man would go on to win emphatically with ‘The Babe’ aboard.
Thomson was now a household name in Australia and was under the watchful eye of one of ‘The Dominator’s’, the Legendary Colin Hayes. While at the Trentham Yearling sales in 1978 Colin Hayes approached the 20yr old hoop and ask him to join his stables in Australia. With little hesitation he accepted. It wasn’t long before the new partnership would prove to be very successful with Thomson riding So Called to victory in the Cox Plate and they would repeat the dose the following year with a performance that would leave punters with stars in their eyes.
The horse would be Dulcify, and his performance to provide Thomson with his 4th Cox Plate was nothing short of breathtaking. Before a crowd of 25,612 Thomson had the favourite on the rails when rival jockey Peter Cook, sensing that his mount Ming Dynasty was out of calculations, shifted around the 800 metre mark to leave a gap for Dulcify “Within three strides, he was outside the leaders; we made up six or seven lengths” Thomson would remark. There was no need for the whip and oncourse announcer Bill Collins was moved to say: “Dulcify’s going to win by a minute – and that’s just the way he might win the Melbourne Cup!” The winning margin would be 7 lengths, a margin that remained unchallenged until Sunline also won by the same margin in 2000.
With success comes heartbreak and one of the greatest of tragedies would strike during the running of the Melbourne Cup. With Thomson aboard the race favourite, Dulcify was galloped on by a rival horse and as a result broke his pelvis. Ever the warrior, Dulcify would lead the race a further 1000 metres before being pulled up by his mount. The inevitable would conclude an emotion filled day, with Dulcify being put down.
Dulcify’s death flattened the champion jockey, but he would ride until the end of the Flemington carnival and go on to proclaim that Dulcify was certainly the best of his 4 Cox Plate winner’s.
Thomson would become the first jockey in Australia to earn $1 million in stakemoney in a season and did he know how to spend it. His penchant for the finer thing’s in life would become legendary. It is said that he once paid $1,000 for a straw hat in Hawaii because it was needed for a golf game. Then there was the $5,000 he outlayed to have two pairs of shoes made in Hong Kong by a top Italian shoemaker, the problem being that they didn’t fit. Some thought that his highrolling lifestyle was overshadowing his brilliant career, but the winner’s kept saluting. He would go on to ride successfully for the Queen, Robert Sangster, the Maktoum family and piloted more than 3000 winners.
This is the man who had only six rides in the Cox Plate for four wins, rode internationally, competed against the best, and rode for one of the greatest trainer’s of all time. His contribution to the Cox Plate legend, and the racing industry in general, will forever be remembered.
To watch ‘The Babe’ in action, click on the following link – http://www.racinghalloffame.co.nz/Inductee-Videos/People/Jockeys/Brent-Thomson
OTHER NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS
2 Caulfield Cups – Group 1
AJC Derby – Group 1
VRC Derby – Group 1
Caulfield Guineas – Group 1
3 VRC Mackinnon Stakes – Group 1
2 Adelaide Cups – Group 1
Ascot Gold Cup – Group 1
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes – Group 1
St James Palace Stakes – Group 1
Grosser Preis Von Baden –Group 1- in Germany (now part of the Emirates World Series) aboard Strawberry Road
Hong Kong Gold Cup – Group 1
Queen Elizabeth II Stakes – Group 1
FURTHER CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
· Winning New Zealand’s Champion Apprentice’s title twice;
· Winning the Victorian Jockey Premiership 3 years in a row:
· Riding winners for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
· Being retained jockey for Robert Sangster and family
· Riding for the Maktoum family.