Robert Thompson’s mum pays him a fitting tribute

Phyllis Thompson with her son and champion jockey, Robert Thompson AM.

Robert Thompson AM rode a staggering 4447 winners in a remarkable career which spanned five decades. 

And whilst his mother Phyllis is understandably immensely proud of the Australian Hall of Famer’s achievements, there is one thing which makes her even prouder of her son.

“I’m so proud of him as a person,” she said last night. “Robert is a gentleman, and respected by everyone in the industry.

“That’s even more important than all the winners he has ridden, though of course I am also very proud of the wonderful career he has had.”

Thompson, 63, officially announced his retirement on Monday (though he had strongly indicated to NSW Country and Picnic Racing on October 23 that it was just around the corner), and his mother admitted she had mixed feelings when he told her of his decision.

“In one way it is sad because it’s the end of an era,” she said. “His father (successful trainer Arthur) has gone (he passed away exactly two years before Robert was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in Brisbane on May 31, 2015) and now Robert has retired.

“But as a mother I’m glad. Robert will be 64 in May and if you have a fall, you don’t bounce back as well.

“I had an inkling he was retiring. He was very disappointed COVID prevented him from riding at the recent North Queensland carnivals because he loved going there every year.

“I think he might have lost a bit of heart from that. Robert spent a lot of his riding life in the spa, and he pulled it out a month ago and got rid of it.

“But he didn’t say then he was retiring until he told me on Monday.”

Phyllis Thompson says Robert Norman Thompson was born to ride.

“He was never going to do anything other than being a jockey,” she said. “He was on a pony by the time he was 18 months old.

“He was always around horses. It’s all he ever knew.”

Born at Cessnock Hospital on May 13, 1958, Thompson was apprenticed to his late grandfather Norm Collins Snr.

By his own admission, he hated school and in fact received special dispensation from his headmaster to ride the first of his 4447 winners.

It was at Wyong on May 8, 1973 (he wasn’t even 15 years of age) when he scored on his grandfather’s horse, It’s Regal, at his eighth ride.

His first city winner, also on his grandfather’s horse Semper Prima, came at his first Randwick ride on May 30 that year; not quite three weeks after his 15th birthday. 

Thompson rode 499 winners as an apprentice, broke the late Jack Thompson’s (no relation) long-standing Australian riding record of 3322 winners when successful on Promised at Port Macquarie on July 28, 2008 and then hit the 4000 mark on Lay Down The Law at Broadmeadow on May 2, 2014.

When Thompson turned 21, his father Arthur took up training. It was the beginning of an outstanding combination.

They were not only father and son but great mates. One of Thompson’s fondest memories is riding all five winners for him one day at their beloved Cessnock racetrack, including the Cup on Gay Scene.

He has always held a soft spot for his dad’s horse My Star Sapphire, on whom he won the Grafton Cup beating older seasoned horses as a three-year-old.

“He won the Gosford Cup the following year, and could have been a spring Cups horse, but bowed a tendon which unfortunately ended his career all too soon,” Thompson said.

Thompson rode in all Australian states and a number of overseas countries – including a two-year stint in Hong Kong with now retired former outstanding Sydney trainer Neville Begg – from lush green metropolitan tracks to far flung dusty outback circuits.

He says Romantic Dream is the best horse he rode, and that his actual Group 1 tally of seven winners should in fact be 18; a pointed reference to the 11 Jungle Juice Cups he won on his home track at Cessnock.

Thompson may not have been fond of school, but from the very first day he started on his journey in the saddle, he kept all his riding records in scrapbooks.

Winners – all 4447 of them – were written in red ink; losers in black.

And he had a couple of “secret weapons” he carried in his kit bag to race meetings. One was Johnson’s baby powder; the other a pair of stockings!

“It’s nothing unusual,” he said. “Pretty well all the jockeys wear stockings and a lot use talcum powder. We sprinkle it on our feet after putting the stockings on.

“The stockings make it easier to tuck your colours (silks) into your riding pants and the powder helps slip your boots on and off.”

Thompson might have called time on his riding career, but says he “still has plenty of things to do”.

“When things settle down, my wife Jenni and I plan to travel around to a lot of places I rode at in Australia,” he said.

“Some of those places I was only there for a day, in and out, so it will be nice to take time to visit them properly.”

Australia’s winningest jockey renewed his licence at the beginning of the current season, hoping he could make his annual trek to compete at the North Queensland carnivals – but disappointingly for him and his legion of fans, it didn’t eventuate.

He still has a cupboard full of Johnson’s baby powder, but won’t need that any more, nor his stockings.

“I’ve had a great run, but it’s time to move on,” he concluded.

A class act on and off the track. Always.