‘The bread and butter jockey…’ by KB Hill

He tells me you can’t miss his house …….Just take two left turns past the Airport…..It’s the first joint on the left….

Sure enough, I spot a sign out the front that says ‘Rob’s Place’……..Two dogs and a pint-sized bloke greet me as I ease the ute into the driveway……..

I’ve happened upon Victoria’s oldest active professional jockey…….


Robbie Beattie’s a battle-worn campaigner who’s carried his slender 165cm, 56kg frame through more than 7,000 race-rides. He’s ridden from here to Broken Hill, Morphettville, Moulamein, Cobar, Flemington, Pooncarie, Wagga, Tumbarumba and beyond……in fact, close on 100 tracks around the nation…He’s the trademark ‘I’ve Been Everywhere Man’…..



“It’s part and parcel of the job,” he says……”But when it’s all boiled down I just love horses…..You still get a buzz out of working with the young ones and getting ‘em to the races……You’re always keen to find one that can gallop a bit….”

He’s known around these parts as an excellent track-rider…….”Well, that’s probably right,” he admits……”If I’m nothing else, I’m a pretty fair judge of a horse”

“I’d only call myself a ‘Bread and Butter’ jockey, though……No sugar-coating that……But I know when they’re ready to win…..”


Robbie’s dream was to be a jockey. He was always tiny…….Always had a pony at home (“a cunning little bastard called Nibbles…..I used to ride him everywhere”). His grandfather Jimmy Corker, well-known as a Moyhu premiership footballer and handy cricketer, also owned a few racehorses……


The young enthusiast.


Robbie Beattie (left) and Ernie Marchant.


“Jimmy was a great bloke, and – like my dad – a very good horseman. I learned a lot off both of them. Probably through them I became captivated by racing. “

“When I was a kid Jimmy had a good one called Top Nip, which ended up winning 18 races…….I won 15 on him……Ran third on him one day at Flemington….Just a real good old punting horse….You always knew when he was right to go.”

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Robbie was no great shakes at school, and couldn’t wait ‘til he could see the back of the classroom. He was 15 when he went out into the wide, wide world.

He’d been doing a bit of work down at Hal Hoysted’s stables before that, but the opportunity came to be apprenticed to the legendary George Hanlon down at Mordialloc.

He lasted just on 4 months.

“George had a bit of a reputation with apprentices, but he was pretty good to me……It’s just that I couldn’t stand being in the big smoke…….I said to him: ‘This city life don’t suit me, George….’ “

So he headed back home and had his indentures transferred to Hal Hoysted.


“Old Hal was one of the best trainers I’ve seen,” Robbie says. “He could set a horse up…..Unbelievable…..Could just read ‘em…..”

His first ride was on one of Hal’s, called The Orchardist, but his maiden winner came on Sodamine, trained by Leanne Smith.

“It was a big thrill….We only raced once a week back then….It was pretty tough in those days because they didn’t worry about claiming (Apprentice jockeys could claim up to 3kg).”

He was still a ‘Claiming 2’ apprentice when he saluted on Galway Gayle, in the listed Dequetteville Stakes, at Adelaide’s Victoria Park.

“I was pretty rapt in that one. It was my first city winner, and the favourite, Brave Smile, had been heavily-backed. We knocked it off by a length and a half……Geez, that got me buzzing.”

Robbie had his indentures transferred over to another local, Johnny Hickmott, in the latter stages of his apprenticeship. Hal consented, as it would give the youngster more riding opportunities.

It proved a stroke of luck….He rode a treble on his home track shortly after; two of them for ‘Hicky’ and the other for Wodonga’s Peter Maher.

They’re just a couple of the countless trainers he’s worked for over the years…….Most of them, he says, he’s established good relationships with, but there’s the occasional one you just don’t hit it off with……

That’s only natural after being four decades in the industry.

“There was one bloke…… I’d spent a lot of time getting his horse ready….. On the morning of the race he sent me a text….It was more of an essay, really……I wasn’t too bloody impressed, and I messaged him back: ‘Don’t ever ask me to ride another horse again….I’ve just got rid of a problem, and you’re it….”

“Mind you, if he was beside the road with a flat tyre I’d help him out, but if he asked me to ride his horse……No way….”

Robbie got on well with Brian Cox, the Border trainer……”We ended up mates more than anything, but we had plenty of blues…….He was like that, Brian……We’d be in the mounting yard arguing about how to ride a horse…..”

“One day he was into me……He wanted it to be ridden forward…..I wanted to ride it back……I remember him saying: ‘Well, ride it how you f……. like, just don’t f…. it up. I got beaten a half head on it…..”

“Another day I galloped one a bit quick. He kept at me, having a dig: ‘Don’t go so bloody quick’……I said: ‘Well, what were you clocking at the track a f….. Ferrari ? ‘ “

“As soon as we’d finish trackwork, though, we’d sit down and have a cup of coffee and relax.”

“I used to go up to ‘Coxy’s’ twice a week when I was working for him…..Then he got disqualified……He was driving a cement-truck whilst serving out his suspension, and really enjoying it…….I saw him up there one day and he said: ‘If I come back, you’re coming with me….”

“Then I got a phone call 2-3 days after that, advising me that he’d rolled his truck and been killed.”


Robbie reels off the trainers with whom he’s had a close association :

“I worked for old Jimmy (Hoysted) ‘til he died, pretty well…..12-15 years……I was only a bit of a kid when he put me on a gelding called Aquilone, which would be one of the best I’ve ridden…..I rode him two or three times…..never won on him, though….. I used to ride him first-up around here before he’d go to Melbourne….. He won 14 or 15 races, including a Group 1 Moir Stakes…..”

“I was with Alby Pilgrim for ages….He was a champion bloke….very loyal…..won a race at Flemington for him on Gondawar….”

Robbie tells me Gondawar was one of only two city winners he’s piloted home in his marathon career:

“You get the odd offer to ride in Melbourne…..But you head down there and ride one slow bastard, whereas you can stay in the bush and have 5 or 6 rides…..You’re better off staying up here….”

And with $250 being the standard fee for a ride these days, is it any wonder ?…..”Yeah, well, when I first started back in the early eighties, it was $16.50,” Robbie recalls.

He’s got a lot of time for Pat Heffernan, the local owner, trainer and Motor Industry identity, who, he says, acted as a mentor to him on the business side of things.

Peter Burgun, Bobby Hahne and Ken Sweeney are three other trainers to whom he was closely attached: “I was Kenny’s number 1 rider for 2-3 years when he was based in the Riverina. He was a master at setting one up and getting it right,” he says.

He rode one of Hal Hoysted’s – Hula Grey – in one of its first starts: “It gave me a dream run one day at Albury…..Just missed out on the track record….It went on to win a Group 3 race…..Fox Wise was another good one of Hal’s……I ended up winning 4 or 5 on him…….They took him to a Wagga Cup Carnival and backed him off the map…..”


Beattie guides Hula Grey home in near-record time at Albury


Gump, with Beattie on board, takes out the Wagga Gold Cup Prelude.


Robbie really enjoys operating with the trainers he principally rides for now……”Adrian Corboy, for instance, came here with nothing and has now built up an excellent business………Adie’s been fantastic….He does a lot of breaking-in…..That suits me….Helping to educate ‘em.”

He’s been working with Swan Hill’s Nathan Hobson for the last three years….

“Nathan’s a terrific bloke…..It’s ironic how we came to be tied up….”

“I was at the Kerang races one day……Anyway, I’m walking off the track and Nathan says: ‘Where are you heading Saturday ?’ …..’Most likely Wang,’ I replied.”

“He said: ‘Well, if you want to, you can have six rides for me at Leeton’…..’Righto, I’m going to Leeton then,’ I said…..’I jumped off the one at Wang and rode at Leeton……so that’s when it all started….”

Robbie rode a Hobson gelding, Chosen Venture, to a third placing at Morphettville a fortnight ago….

“He’s a good horse….. Had five starts and been in the money five times….That’s given me a lot of satisfaction, because I did all the work with him from the day dot….”

He heads over to Swan Hill each Monday to ride fast trackwork for the Hobson stable. He stays the night and returns home the following morning.

The hardest thing about chasing rides over the length and breadth of the country is the driving that’s involved, Robbie says.

“I’m really lucky that a mate of mine, Johnny West, helps me out if he’s free…….Westy’s been coming to the races with me for a good 30 years……Loves his racing, and he’s great company….”


I mention that, in sporting terms, being a jockey for nigh-on 40 years is a brilliant achievement (he chalks up that milestone next August).

“Yeah,” he says……”It’s a tough caper…..I’ve had a lot of kicks in the guts along the way.”

His worst injury came when he tumbled off a horse during trackwork…….”Broke my pelvis in seven places and had internal bleeding….I also spent about six months out with torn ligaments in the shoulder, and smashed my hand once.”

“There’s been about eight race falls, which isn’t too bad…….I might have got the odd broken nose, or lost a few teeth…..Really, I reckon it’s a pretty safe game…..We’re all lookin’ after each other……No-one’s on drugs or anything…..”

“At least when you’re out on the track there’s nothing coming towards you,” he quips.

Robbie’s fallen foul of racing stewards a fair few times……”That’s just one of the pitfalls of the job. I went for about eight years without being ‘rubbed out’ at one stage, but usually I average one every couple of years……”

“You can’t please everyone…..You’ve only got a split-second to make a decision in a race……sometimes it can be the wrong one.”

“As one of my old bosses once said: ‘If you’re not getting suspended occasionally, you’re not trying…”





His daily ritual has always remained the same when he’s at home…….Rising at 3.30am, he has a fag and a cup of coffee, then he’s on his way. It takes him about 13 minutes to reach the Wangaratta track, where he’s regarded as somewhat of an institution ……

“I still enjoy doing trackwork six days a week…..The only time I don’t go in is when it’s raining….”

He used to have a lot of trouble wasting for race-meetings, when the weight scale was around 49.5kg……”But I only ride at 56kg in this day and age…..I don’t even bother trying to waste….”

Robbie reckons that, as long as his body holds up he can stay in the saddle for at least a couple of years (maybe past his 60th birthday) and hopefully, add to the 500-odd winners he’s guided home.

“I still enjoy it……Whether you’re riding at Morphettville or Manangatang it’s all the same in the jockey’s room….We’re all equal…….”

“The best part is the banter……You’re competing against ‘em, but we’re all looking after each other…The shit that they carry on with is just good fun…..” says the Bread and Butter jockey.




To read more on the Almanac site by KB Hill click here.


This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission.
All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.

To read more of KB Hill’s great stories on the Almanac, click HERE.

To return to our Footy Almanac home page click HERE.

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?

And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help things keep ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE.

One-off financial contribution – CLICK HERE.

Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE.


  1. Top stuff KB. I’ve seen a few rides of Robbie’s over the years at Corowa, Berrigan, and other tracks around the border. A mighty fine rider in that neck of the woods. However I can’t recall the times he saluted in town, I mustn’t have been watching the races on those days.

    Brian Cox was a top trainer, though he got caught doing the wrong thing,and as expected copped a suspension. However his suspension was extremely costly, having to find work away from the track. Sadly the job he took in the interim cost him his life.

    Interesting seeing Ernie Marchant in the photo. I remember seeing him at Yea few years back. His wife had a few runners that day; Ernie was having a lazy Saturday. It’s a while since I’ve seen him ride.

    Another jockey of a similar vintage who’s been around a while is Michael Heagney. He’s ridden a lot around the border, as well as places as diverse and disparate as, Broome and outback Queensland. Not unusual to still see him and Robbie Beattie riding at the same meeting.


  2. Enjoyed the yarn…old school hoops are a treasure these days.
    Australia’s oldest KEITH BALLARD rode a winner at a TAB meeting at Mt Isa this week…Keith is 70.

Leave a Comment