John Hickmott, 76, once operated a real estate business in Wangaratta and was a hobby trainer before taking on the gig full-time and eventually moving to South Australia 30 years ago, settling in Murray Bridge. Since then he has become a prolific trainer, preparing many winners every year across the state and – more recently – making the transition from the old Murray Bridge track to the new facility at Gifford Hill. We asked him about his background and a few other things…
- How did you land in South Australia?
I don’t race many two-year-olds, but I had one that was a flying machine. One morning (in Wangaratta) I was looking through the calendar with the owner and it said ‘Murray Bridge, 900-metre maiden, 2YO’. I knew a bloke in Murray Bridge, Ron Morgan, so I rang him and he had a box for me.
Anyway, I brought two horses over. The two-year-old won by five or six lengths – and we backed him – and the other horse won the sprint. So we got to like the place.
I came back at Easter for Oakbank, had two runners over the carnival, and they both won.
We ended up with a foreman here, ex-jockey John Stocker. I was going back and forth all the time, so we decided to make a move holus-bolus. That was 1990.
- What do you love about the industry?
I just love the animal. I left school when I was 14 and went working with a drover when I was 15. Animals are my life, whether it’s sheep, cattle or horses. When I was a kid, if you wanted to go somewhere you used to ride a horse – and they’re just marvellous animals.
We breed horses, we rear them and we race them. They give you a lot of enjoyment.
- Do you still like a bet now, John?
Betting is something I’ve gone away from. I used to bet big once, but I think our prizemoney is such that you don’t need to bet any more.
The horse that won (recently) at Strathalbyn cost 11 grand. And sure, we’ve fed him for a couple of years, but he’s won $16,000 now. Not many horses get their money back, but he has, and he’s only just started, so everything from now on is a bonus.
If you can win a race in town it’s really good, but prizemoney in general has increased.
We’ve had a coronavirus downturn at the moment, but we’ll get over that. We’re very lucky to have been racing without any public participation. It’s been great – we can’t complain.
- Anything else you want to say about the industry, John?
It’s a great industry and it employs a lot of people. We’ve got six track riders, from jockeys down, then another four or five full-time people who work at the stable.
It’s a hell of an industry and if you love the horse you get bitten by the racing bug.
The fellow who part owns this horse that won at Strath (Mavette), it was his first dip in the water and he’s got a 10 per cent share. He’s a school teacher in Darwin and when he rang up after the race you thought he’d won the Lotto. He was rapt.
Look, I think if our industry is strong enough to get through this coronavirus we’re going to go somewhere.