Commencing today it is my intention from this day forth to occasionally run a feature racing story that I consider is of historical significance for my readers. As I have stated here before – Justracing through both my own accumulated lifetime collection and being gifted numerous publications by three other kind individuals over the last decade – has one of the best historical sources of racing material in the country.

I came across this fascinating story recently in a Turf Monthly magazine. It was penned in January 1985 by a John Bartle and the article gives a fascinating insight into a racing writer named T. G. (Tom) Hopkins who retired way back in 1942. It seems he was feared by racing administrators for his “vitriolic pen”. It would appear that he was also a very good judge of horseflesh, accurately picking out a horse that he publicly stated would beat Phar Lap. He also pioneered commercial radio being allowed to broadcast racing from on course even though the AJC (Australian Jockey Club) bought up all the land outside of their track in an attempt to stop him broadcasting races. He advised his readers to ignore the public opinion of trainers and thought it more important to take note of trainers who said little publicly about their horses. His comments on racehorses were so respected that circulation of a weekly newsletter he put out went “from a few thousand to 85,000 a week”.

I had my secretary re-type the article in full, which is naturally credited to the now defunct wonderful publication of yesteryear that many of us well remember – Turf Monthy.

“Tom Hopkins is a name horse-racing will long remember. For better or worse, Hopkins tore aside the last vestiges of the glamorous sport to reveal the more insidious side of man’s dealings with thoroughbreds.

Hopkins wrote without fear or favour, and his racing column, headed “The Quick and the Dead”, was the satirical banner that forewarned of Hopkins vitriolic pen.

Racing administrators raged at the mention of Tom Hopkins’ name as he relentlessly attacked what he claimed was their inept control of an industry overrun by conmen and exploiters.

Until Hopkins arrived on the scene, most racegoers were blissfully ignorant of the wheeling-and-dealing that went on in racing stables as the less scrupulous owners, trainers and jockeys, engineered coups and “sold” off favoured mounts to the pockets of bookmakers for a slice of the profits.

Tom Hopkins pushed Racing’s wrongdoers into the headlines with blistering commentary that would have brought our present-day “legal eagles” crashing down around his head.

In the days when the laws of libel were practically unheard of, Hopkins was able to vent his wrath on any flagrant abuse of Racing Rules in scathing editorials.

A man with a deep understanding of Racing, and a shrewd judge of horses and horsemen, Tom Hopkins gave racegoers their first formguide and in publications like “Newsletter” and “Turf Life”, highlighted activities he considered were a deliberate attempt to deceive the public.

Hopkins’ comments were devastating to owners, trainers and jockeys alike. Sharp-witted, eagle-eyed, Hopkins seized on the performance of any horse who ran contrary to expectations. “Ran-off on turn. Eased at end. Blew from twos to 10-1. Ha! Ha!” – were typical of his comments. “Jockey ‘strangled’ mount – So-and-so was a ‘red-hot dead ‘un from go to whoa – Burglars were in charge at the racetrack on Saturday – Jockey panicked (when he thought he might win) and dived for the outside fence – Smothered up in straight to conceal the robbery” – were other caustic remarks made by Hopkins.

Before Hopkins’ eye-opening formguide, newspaper coverage of race fields was almost non-existent. There was little and, indeed, at times no detail of the performances of horses engaged at race meetings.

Racing commentary in the leading dailies was mostly confined to the major races, in after-race reporting, and more often than not, punters were left in the dark about trackwork, fitness and race form.

Tom Hopkins changed all that. Even today, there is no publication that offers the comprehensive analysis of all horses engaged at Sydney meetings that Hopkins made available to punters.

Hopkins would personally inspect each horse engaged in races in Sydney and his impressions would be written into the formguide.

If a horse looked poor in condition, under trained, or fat, Hopkins would make a note of the fact for his readers. Then he would add his at times scathing commentary on the horse’s racing performance.

Hopkins was aided in his endeavours by his two brothers, Jim and Cecil. The three men would station themselves at different vantage points on the course while a race was in progress.

Tom Hopkins was always stationed at the home turn where he could best gain a true indication of the race.

Later the three men would collate their information and provide a complete guide to the performance of each runner.

The three brothers were skilled race callers and worked alongside “pencil men” who jotted down their observations. They knew the colours of all the owners – and they knew the “tricks”. What they missed was of little consequence.

The public showed just how much they appreciated Hopkins’ efforts by boosting the circulation of the “Newsletter” from a few thousand to 85,000 copies a week.

Tom Hopkins, who died in February, 1964, was born in 1892, the third eldest of a family steeped in Racing lore.

Tom’s father, Jim, was a Sporting Editor before he turned his hand to training winners. Hopkins snr was an excellent conditioner of thoroughbreds and it was said that he could take a horse from a “council pound” and win with it.

Hopkins’ three sons worked in his stables and learned all there was to know about horses. Tom’s elder brother, Jim, was apprenticed and was a talented horseman, good enough to be invited by Dick Wootton to ride for his stable in England.

Instead, Jim Hopkins decided to accept an offer to visit South Africa when he rode with success before World War One.

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