(1854 – 1894)
“He never flinched from fence or wall, he never was afraid” – From a tribute by ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Tommy Corrigan was Australia’s best-known and best-loved jockey of the 19th century, and of his day. Corrigan had won seven Grand Nationals. He rode nearly 250 winners from 800 mounts, while his tally of placed horses exceeded his losers. He was renowned for honesty and integrity, a “straight goer, good fellow and peerless horseman.”
Born in County Meath, North of Dublin, Ireland in 1850 (or 1854), but about 10 years later his parents migrated and came to Victoria 1864. The Corrigan clan settled on a cattle property near Woodford (V) – and, in about 1866, the lad, skipping farm work, won a local steeplechase.
Australian Sporting Celebrities (1887) notes: “He rode his mare, Juliet, over to the meeting to have a look at the races, and, finding that there was a Hack Steeplechase, post entry, to be brought off later in the afternoon, he entered the mare, and … won easily, and the fences in that part of the country – six miles from Warrnambool – are pretty stiff.”
Back home, young Tom was in strife with his father, trying to explain his absence from his daily chores.
The arrival of owner-trainer William Tozer saved Tom’s bacon.
Tozer, a stranger to the Corrigans, came to the homestead to deliver Tommy’s winning ‘trophy’…a saddle and spurs…which the lad was not aware he had won.
The Tozer told the boy’s parents that their son was a gifted rider with a future on the Turf.
From there, Corrigan entered service for trainers Tozer and Moran at Warrnambool, and then shortly afterwards moved to trainer Gallagher as head stable lad. After winning flat and hurdle events in the area, in 1867 he rode at Flemington on Cup Day.
The young apprentice rode Tozer’s colt BA in the Maiden Plate, WFA, over a mile-and-a-half (2400m). But the crack filly Silvia was to good, and BA came second.
After tasting the big-time, Corrigan’s opportunities were confined to the Western Districts…Ararat, Camperdown, Coleraine, Port Fairy, Warrnambool, and he won on mounts such as Black Bess, Chester and Touch it.
Corrigan was of small stature, even for a jockey, and boasted a huge handlebar moustache. The racing public held him in great esteem and affection. As the Argus wrote: “Possessing a kindly, genial disposition, and being as open as the day, he made friends everywhere. Added to this, he is one of the most capable horsemen over fences ever seen in Australia”.
In 1872, Corrigan returned to the ‘big smoke’ for a Melbourne Cup ride on Emblem – the Cup being won by The Quack. With weight rising, he rode two pounds over, at 7 stone 9 lb (48.6 kgs), and subsequently focused his riding skills on the ‘tall timbers’.
Tom Corrigan first raised eyebrows over the jumps in the metropolitan area in 1875, when he won at Postboy at the (defunct) Kensington Park Racecourse in Melbourne. Then, also that year, in Sydney, he won on Cronstadt in a Steeple on AJC Derby Day at Randwick, and, on Hotspur at the Sydney Hunt Club meeting a week later – the AJC would later scrap steeplechases in 1931 and hurdles in 1942.
After those victories, Tom Corrigan’s rise to fame gained impetus in 1877 when he donned the green-and-white striped jacket colours of Callarat conditioner Martin Loughlin.
The Loughlin camp swept all before them, with ‘leapers’ that included the grey Lone Hand, who won successive Steeples at Flemington with 12.2 (77.3 kgs), 12.10 (81 kgs) – and a massive 13.6 (85.5 kgs).
It was hot and sultry in 1879 on New Year’s Day as Corrigan – who’d earlier won the Hurdle (4800m) on Pioneer, 502f – took Lone Hand out for VRC Steeplechase (4800m). Despite the 13 stone 6 lb impost, punters backed him into 5-4.
While steeplechasing is hazardous enough today, the Flemington Steeple course, dating from about 1860, comprised of 22 impediments with: 1.3 m high ‘live’ hedges, solid post-and-rail fences to 1.25m, 1.16m high log barriers, paling fences of 1.2m, a 1.6m stonewall, and a water jump!
Five leapers started and Corrigan sat back in the first round. Then made up ground in the second. And Uhlan and Lone Hand entered the home straight together.
The Melbourne Age reported:”…these two raced over the remaining two hurdles together, until the distance was reached, when Lone Hand drew away and won easily by nearly a length from Uhlan, Prince Alfred a bad third.
Both horse and rider were loudly cheered on returning to scale, as they deserved to be, for really it was a great victory.”
By the 1880’s, Corrigan’s name had become a household word in Australia. Open and generous with all, on the track he was courageous, and possessed an uncanny ability to ‘lift’ tired animals over fences. Superbly fit. Corrigan never let backers down. Perhaps his greatest riding feat was witnessed on July 23, 1881, at Flemington.
The day began with Corrigan taking out the opener, the Maiden Hurdle WFA (3200m), on Handy Andy, 7-4. Then he bagged the Maiden Steeple WFA (4800m) on Great Western, 5-4.
Then came the inaugural VRC Grand National Hurdle (4800m) with 12 runners. The Age noted: “Corrigan having won the first two events hardened his third mount in the betting, even money being the reply to any one who asked the price of Sir Peter.”
The Press recorded: “Sir Peter had been gradually working his way up to the leaders, and as the turn was reached he was on terms … nearing the last hurdle Sir Peter was in front, but striking heavily he lost fully two lengths, Cumberland seeming now to have the race in hand, but Corrigan’s call was gamely responded to, and amidst great excitement he landed Sir Peter’a head’ winner, Dhurringile third …”
“Consequently, on his return to scale, he (Corrigan) was greeted with the most enthusiastic cheering, the popular jockey being universally esteemed. In due time the Grand National Steeple was called on, Corrigan’s mount, which was Twilight, being in general demand … so great … the bookmakers refused to lay more than 5-4 against …”
However, in the Grand National Steeple Susses (Batty) landed the money.
After three winners in one day, in 1882 Corrigan won both the VRC Grand National Steeple on Great Western, 2-1f, and the Caulfield Grand National Steeple on Left Bower, 2-1f.
On July 18, 1885, at Flemington, Corrigan headed a big field in the Maiden Hurdle on Hippogriff, 4-1f, and won the vrc Grand National Steeple on Wymlet.
The following year, the jockey saluted after the VRC Grand National Steeple on Game, 3-1f, and the Caulfield Grand National Steeple (4000m), also on Game, evens.
In 1887 came a memorable ride on Society, 7-1, at Randwick, in the Tattersall’s Club Grand national Hurdle (3200m).
Under dull skies, the nine jumpers negotiated the course, with Corrigan midfield. When they headed for home, Invictus led Balmoral, Glenduart and Society.
At the final obstacle, Invictus hit heavily, and Balmoral took advantage, but “… suddenly Corrigan, who came very late, dashed Society up on the outside and just snatched the race out of the fire by a short half length.”
On Easter Monday, 1889, “… the merry-hearted little Irishman” bagged a double at Oakbank, in South Australia.
In perfect jumping weather, and before a crowd of 12,000, Corrigan got Sluggard, 5-4 home in the Hurdle Race (3200m). In the Great Eastern Steeple (5200m), 12 started, but more than half succumbed en route.
With 800m to go, Corrigan led on Flashlight, 5-4, followed by Saxon, Ashes, Skylark II and Bordeaux.
The bounded down a hill, over logs, and onto the course proper. Then, over a hedge, and over a last fence. Then, as they settled down to fight it out, Saxon got on terms. But Corrigan pulled the whip, and drove his mount to the line to score by a length.
The Australasian reported: “Corrigan got a great reception on returning to the scale, and the little Irishman has seldom ridden in better form than he did on Monday, his performance on Sluggard especially being worthy of his great reputation.”
In 1890 Corrigan added the Caulfield Grand National Steeple (then 8400m) with Sir Winfred (Tas), 8-1, to his formidable tally.
After years at Ballarat, Tom Corrigan moved his base to Caulfield racecourse, where he also took horses to train. As he told a scribe: “I’m getting a bit old for the game. Even harmless falls now are becoming more and more painful.”
Love of the sport kept Corrigan on the track, however, and … in 1894 … he was killed in a fall.
Contemporary reports spoke of a premonition.
A few months before, his step brother, James Corrigan, had died after a fall on a horse called Comdian at Warrnambool. The, unbeknown to the trainer, Comedian entered his Caulfield stable.
When eventually told, by a Warrnambool visitor, as the Argus put it: “The discovery rather upset Corrigan, who … had a kind of presentiment that the horse would bring bad luck.”
According to a 1945 Argus story, Corrigan spoke at length about his life to a friend on the Thursday before the fateful race.
Then, on the Saturday morning, Tommy Corrigan saw a priest and took absolution.
The weather was fine and the crowd large on August 11, 1894, Caulfield Grand National Steeple Day.
Originally, Corrigan had been booked to ride the fancied Daimio. But the horse was scratched. The jockey turned down a likely seat on Mikadoo II to ride his own horse, Waiter, a longshot.
Before going out he reportedly told Governor Hopetoun: “I haven’t got a hope, sir, but I must go out and have ride with the boys.”
That day, 12 faced the starter. Waiter successfully negotiated four obstacle … then crashed at the fifth, well before the stand, and landed on the jockey.
The following Monday, Tom Corrigan died from brain injuries.
In his 27 years in the saddle, Tom Corrigan had 788 rides … in Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales … for 239 wins, 135 seconds and 95 thirds.
The tally included: the inaugural VRC Grand National Hurdle, three VRC Grand National Steeples, three Caulfield Grand National Steeples, a Tatts Club Grand National Hurdle and an Oakbank Great Eastern Steeple.
Corrigan’s mounts won 38,825 pounds in stakes, and he should have been well off, but due to gambling and his generosity, died almost broke.
A benefit helped out his wife, Robina, and two children. As a token of respect, the VATC paid for the burial.
Conflicting birth dates put Corrigan’s age at either 40 or 44.
Tom Corrigan’s funeral may have one of the largest public occasions ever seen in Melbourne.
The cortege, comprising 240 vehicles and hundreds on horseback, commenced from his Kambrook Road home, near Caulfield Racecourse, and stretched three miles (4.8 km) throughstreets lined with mourners to the city.
Flags flew at half mast and business stopped as the coffin decked in flowers passed along Swanston Street.
The procession, which included 120 jockeys and trainers, took 30 minutes to pass any one point.
With leading jockeys acting as the pall bearers, Tommy Corrigan was laid to rest … along with the spurs, boots and colours he wore in his last race … at the Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton.
Tom Corrigan memorabilia including his riding whip can be viewed in the Australian Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Melbourne.
Why was Tom Corrigan so popular?
While it’s hard to actually put your finger on it, it does seem, in a then seedy profession, that Corrigan demonstrated you could retain your integrity and still be a winner.
Source: Turf Monthly: Tales of the Turf No 14
Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton
AUSTRALIAN RACING MUSEUM AND HALL OF FAME
Flemington, Victoria, Australia
Champions Recognises Australian ‘Fallen’ Jockeys
Champions supports the aims of The National Jockeys’ Trust. The trust assists jockeys who have been forced into early retirement due to injury as well as supporting education schemes for jockeys and aiding families of fallen jockeys
An initiative of both the Australian Racing Board and the Australian Jockeys’ Association, National Jockey Celebration Day was formed. This day is on the national racing calendar to recognise jockeys and their contribution to the thoroughbred racing industry. This day celebrates the achievements of both current and former jockeys as well as commemorates jockeys whose lives have been lost in riding accidents.
(A tribute by ‘Banjo’ Paterson)
You talk of riders on the flat, of nerve and dash and pace!
Not one in 50 has the nerve to ride a steeplechase.
It’s gay enough while horses pull and take their fences strong.
To rush a flyer to the front and bring the field along;
But what about the last half-mile, with horses blown and beat,
When every jump means all you know to keep him on his feet!
When any slip means sudden death — with wife and child to keep,
It needs some pluck to draw the whip and flog him to the leap
But Corrigan would ride them out, by danger undismayed,
He never flinched from fence or wall, he never was afraid.
With easy seat and nerve of steel, light hand and cheery face,
He held the rushing horses back and made the sluggards race,
He gave the shirkers extra heart; he steadied down the rash,
He rode great clumsy, boring brutes and chanced the fatal smash,
He got the rushing Wymlet home that never jumped at all,
But clambered over every fence and clouted every wall;
But ah! You should have heard the cheers that shook the Members’ stand
Whenever Tommy Corrigan weighed out to ride Lone Hand!
The were, indeed, a splendid pair – the great upstanding horse,
The gamest jockey on his back that ever faced a course,
Though weight was big and pace was hot and jumps were stiff and tall,
“You follow Tommy Corrigan” was passed to one and all,
And every man in Ballarat raised all he could command
To put on Tommy Corrigan when riding old Lone Hand.
But now we’ll keep his memory green while horsemen come and go,
We may not see his like again where silks and satins glow;
We’ll drink to him in silence, boys, he’s followed down the track
Where many a good man went before, but never one came back,
And let us hope in that far land, where shades of brave men reign,
That gallant Tommy Corrigan will ride Lone Hand again!
Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson was a famous Australian bush poet and author. He was born at Narambla, near Orange, New South Wales on February 17, 1864 and died on April 5, 1941. He wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing particularly on the rural and outback areas, including the district around Binalong, New South Wales where he spent much of his childhood.