The Babe inducted into Hall of Fame
Brent Thomson pictured at Trentham early on in his illustrious riding career. Photo: Race Images
Legendary expat-Kiwi jockey Brent Thomson, affectionately known as The Babe, has been inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.
Already a Hall of Famer in his homeland of New Zealand, Thomson began his riding career in Wanganui in 1973 as a 15-year-old.
The son of trainer Kevin Thomson, he was a natural in the saddle and went on to early success in New Zealand before winning the first of four Gr.1 Cox Plates (2040m) at the tender age of 17-years-old when guiding home New Zealand horse Fury’s Order to victory in 1973.
Thomson then went on to win three successive Cox Plates from 1977 aboard Family of Man, So Called, and Dulcify, a horse Thomson would label as the best he has ridden.
“The way that Dulcify won that Cox Plate was fantastic, and the call of Bill Collins was amazing, he was an exciting caller. It was my fourth (win in the race) and I thought he could win it, but not quite the way he did.
“It will always go down as one of those great Cox Plates because of Collins’ call. If I was to put one race (as a highlight of my career), he’s the pinnacle.”
Midway through his Cox Plate run, Thomson was lured over the Tasman by legendary trainer Colin Hayes and he immediately rewarded Hayes’ faith with two successive wins the Cox Plate.
The partnership continued to flourish and Thomson went on to win three Victorian jockey premierships, becoming the first non-Victorian to claim the title.
Thomson was then lured to the United Kingdom as a 24-year-old by Robert Sangster, and as with Hayes, he immediately rewarded Sangster’s faith in him.
“Having Robert Sangster as my sponsor was a massive help,” he said. “My first success was at Royal Ascot on Committed in what was the Cork and Orrery Stakes, now known as the Queen’s Jubilee (Gr.1, 1200m). All those things were massive door openers (in the United Kingdom).”
Thomson went on to win the Gr.1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (1600m) aboard Sure Blade and highlighted his ride aboard Gildoran when winning the Gr.1 Ascot Gold Cup (4000m) as one of his best.
The pair lead for the majority of the extreme distance to give Gildoran back-to-back wins in the race.
“He was an interesting horse because he was a really big heavy horse, but he virtually needed the ground to be rock hard, which is quite unusual for English stayers,” he said.
“The horse was in great form and he ran well in a lead-up race, but you hope and pray that the ground stayed good and fast, and it did.
“I just knew that they were going to go an ordinary pace for the first half of the race and I decided to make our own way. It was a very lonely place to be for about four minutes, rocking and rolling up front.
“I always rated it as one of my great rides because it’s a long way to be in front. It’s like leading in a Melbourne Cup-plus.”
Thomson experienced plenty of success during his time in Europe, including securing Group One success in the Grosser Preis Von Baden (2400m) in Germany aboard Strawberry Road.
Thomson subsequently returned to Australia in 1987 where he once again experienced immediate success.
“I came back to Australia, got off the plane and won a Gr.1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m) on Marwong and I won the Caulfield Cup (Gr.1, 2400m) on Lord Reims.”
Thomson said he found it hard to settle in Australia and elected to move to Asia and found Hong Kong to be an exciting place to ride.
“I found it terribly hard to settle in Australia after being away for such a long time,” he said.
“Whilst I had great success and won big races, I found it quite unsteady. That’s why I probably travelled after that to the likes of Hong Kong and spent time in Asia, and then went back to England in the nineties.
“The most exciting place that I have ridden is undoubtedly Hong Kong. A place like Happy Valley under lights on a Wednesday night. I came through that era where Hong Kong racing just took off like wildfire.”
In all, Thomson plied his trade in 24 countries, recording more than 2,500 wins, 54 of those at Group One level.
Thomson, now based in Melbourne, wasn’t lost to the racing industry after his retirement, having worked for New Zealand Bloodstock for a number of years as their Australian representative.
Thomson said he had a wonderful riding career and looks back on his time in the saddle with fondness.
“Big races usually followed me and it was a great career,” he said.