As you slowly wind your way by car into the sleepy little South Burnett town of Monto in Queensland, you’d probably accelerate and head further towards your ultimate destination! Nothing against Monto, but it’s not the sort of place you’d stop to fill in an hour on a busy day of driving. That’s of course unless you had a love of racing and you realise the significance of this township.
When I recently travelled through the town, I did something I’m really good at – I hit town at 2.03 pm – just as the pubs have pulled the shutters down on their beaut country pub counter lunches. Oh well, not to worry – better to be late than “dead on time”. So I filled the car up with petrol and ask the twenty something year old man who only had one hand – “where can I get a feed that’s any good?” “Just up round the corner – about 500 metres”. So I go into the “Business Centre” and there it is – it’s the “Rainbow Cafe”. There the service is first class – away from the pathetic lack of manners that profligate staff of businesses in major cities of Australia – the near 60 year old woman (maybe she was really 40 but had had a hard life!), served me a great feed of cold meat, salad and chips for $8. Three quarters of the way through the feed I walked over to her and said “Have you lived in Monto a long time?” (Something was playing on my mind – and her and I had “bonded” when she served me!)
“Yeah (with a giggle and a country smile) what did you want to know?” she inquired.
“Well can you tell me anything about a famous jockey who came from Monto – a Ken Russell?”
“Oh yes – his dad still has the property just up the back of Lions Park where Ken’s statue is”.
“Statue? How would I get to that?”
So in the space of half an hour in Monto, I’d met a nice lady – had a good feed – and found the statue of one of the greatest post war jockeys Queensland produced.
May I say that statue (pictured) serves as an incredible tribute of just how good Ken Russell really was. No expense has been spared on the structure and all lovers of racing should stop at “Lions Park” in Monto and just share five or ten minutes with the statue to soak up some great memories of a special jockey. Many readers will never get the opportunity to travel to the town, so I went and got a note book from my car and wrote some facts down so as to be able to pen this story.
Ken Russell rode his first winner – a horse called Frosty Val – at the little Queensland outpost of Banana on the 24th June 1972. Ken Russell’s last winner was at Rosehill racecourse on 9/10/93 on Whivory. He was tragically killed later that same day – after winning aboard Whivory – when his mount Tuig broke down and fell in the last race of the day. He was aged 42.
Ken Russell’s statistics as a jockey are quite extraordinary. Just consider for one moment the following achievements of the man:-
a) He rode the programme just once in his career – at Thangool on 19/10/74
b) He rode 4 winners on a day – just 24 times!
c) He rode 3 winners on a day – just 106 times!
d) He rode 2 winners on a day – just 315 times!
e) He won 14 Jockeys Premierships from as far afield as Rockhampton to Gosford.
Ken Russell rode in over 10,000 races and won 1804 of them. Whilst he was a great jockey on any track, he earned the nickname “King of the Coast” for his dominance in the riding ranks at Queensland’s Gold Coast track. He went on to ride successfully overseas in Singapore, Malaysia, Macau and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai and Abu Dhabi).
Ken Russell won two Magic Millions (one on Sea Cabin and the other on Malibu Magic), a Prime Minister’s Cup on Avitt, a Queensland Derby on Hidden Rhythm, a couple of Queensland Oaks (Round The World and Triumphal Queen), an AJC Doncaster on Merimbula Bay and a stack of other feature races.
Ken Russell – the “King of the Coast” – the “Monto Marvel” – you call him whichever you fancy, I’ll just call him one of the great post war jockeys of Australia and leave his statue and statistics bear testament to that fact.