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Gentleman Jockey Dies at 95

Gentleman jockey, Jack Purtell, has passed away quietly in Queensland, aged 95 years.

He was a quiet man, there was nothing ostentatious about Jack, he was the perfect example of a gentleman that could never be questioned.

Back in the thirties trainers didn’t want apprentices, nor did owners; they were only a means of cheap labour.

Jack had visions of becoming a jockey like Jim Pike or Darby Munro, he walked the streets of Mordialloc and nearby Epsom, there were no takers, trainers could hardly feed the labour they had, there was no room for any more.

He was about to give up when he knocked on the door of Ted Temby, he was about to say no when a tear appeared in Jack’s eye, Temby didn’t want to break down as well so Jack had a job.

The senior jockeys at that time received the bulk of the race riding, apprentices rode track work, mucked out boxes and did all the various other chores that goes with stable life, while race riding was very restricted, owners wanted the senior jockeys to ride their horses in races.

Ted Temby described Jack as a lovely young man, he was like a son to him, however, breaking him in as a jockey was not easy, the stable was short of a good horse.

It was neighbouring trainer, Sid Ferguson, who gave the young jockey his first big break, when he was engaged to ride Velocity in the Caulfield Cup.

He was thrust into the major league, now including visiting riders from Sydney, Jack Thompson. Billy Cook, Maurice McCarten, Fred Shean, Neville Sellwood, and the master himself, Darby Munro.

Velocity won that Caulfield Cup by a head from Reading, while Evergreen was third, the favourite, Lucrative, ridden by Maurice McCarten finished seventh.

Jack rode the first of his three Melbourne Cups winners 1947, the grey Hiraji for F W Hughes, a major businessman with huge property holdings in New South Wales, plus a stud, raced several horses but seldom bothered going to the races.

He missed out riding his second Melbourne Cup winner in 1950 when he preferred Alister as his mount to Comic Court, who was ridden by Pat Glennon who won easily by three lengths.

Jack had ridden Comic Court the previous year, believing he was not a genuine stayer and Alister had won the Derby well by three lengths ridden by Reg Heather, but he could make the Cup weight, owner, Bill Ballock, knew that, hence Purtell was approached and accepted.

At this stage Jack had formed a close association with V R C committee E A Underwood, three years later the partnership won the Melbourne Cup with Wodalla.

He won the Cup the following year on Rising Fast under unusual circumstances, when an owner had sacked a jockey for winning a race.

When Rising Fast arrived from New Zealand, his owner, L R Spring, booked Bill Williamson to ride the gelding throughout the horse’s spring campaign.

Williamson had won three weight for age races on Rising Fast, leading into the Caulfield Cup he was a raging favourite at 7-4.

Then it all went hay wire when Williamson had a fall in the Thousand Guineas from Impartial, and broke his foot and was out for the entire spring, a replacement rider had to be found for Rising Fast.

The substitute rider was Arthur Ward, a highly capable jockey from Sydney, Rising Fast won the Caulfield Cup by three quarters of a length, however, instead of applauding Ward for his ride, Mr Spring was critical, that was the only time Arthur Ward ever rode Rising Fast.

Spring immediately engaged Jack Purtell to ride Rising Fast for the remainder of the spring; they combined to win four races, including the Cox Plate, giving Jack Purtell his third Melbourne Cup victory.

I am not sure how Jack Purtell would rate Rising Fast, I’m sure it would be very high, he was the toughest horse seen since Phar Lap, Rising Fast won seven Group 1 races over a period of 35 days.

Jack Purtell was a great ornament to racing, over a very long period as a jockey he was only suspended once.

It was common for our jockeys to ride in England during the sixties in the off season, here Pat Glennon had the most success, Scobie Breasley trained on in the UK, Ron Hutchinson stayed on and rode several winners, and Jack Purtell was among classic winners when he won the Oaks on Long Look for Vincent O’Brien in 1965.

On retirement from racing Jack Purtell had no visions of taking out a trainer’s license, he had memories of the hardships his old boss Ted Temby had to endure training, it was no life of luxury, the only success in racing, being a jockey and a trainer was the late Maurice McCarten.

Jack Purtell won seven premierships in Melbourne, and on retirement from racing he joined the Victorian Racing Club’s panel of stewards for some years, before final retirement in Queensland.

He will be remembered as a great jockey, a good person and a highly respected man.

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Rising Fast ridden by Jack Purtell


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