Billy Cook Australian Jockey
Trainer John Donohue Gave Peter Cook His Start As An Apprentice In 1925
A look to the past finds the story of a successful jockey who served in his country during World War II and supplied a couple of remarkable bookends to that conflict by winning Australia’s Melbourne Cup shorty after the outset of the war in 1941, and then again after it conclusion in 1945.
In between, he served in an administrative capacity for the armed forces in Sydney after he was rejected for a combat role due to medical issues.
The jockey in question is William Henry Cook, more commonly known in racing circles as Billy Cook.
Billy Cook Apprentice To John Donohue
Trainer John Donohue gave Cook his start as an apprentice in 1925 when Cook, just sixteen years of age, won his first race riding Pigeon Pie at Canterbury racecourse in Sydney.
It took him the better part of four years to notch his first significant win, that being the Sydney Cup while riding Carbine descendant Crucis.
That feat was repeated on one other occasion, eighteen years later, with Cook doing the steering and Carioca providing the galloping. This was just the sort of longevity that marks the careers of the great jockeys, since many would have been comfortably retired, and Cook continued on after until he was nearly 50 when he quit the game.
Billy Cook And Amounis
Billy Cook would have marked it a privilege to count Amounis as one of his most notable mounts, and it was that pair that denied Phar Lap the 1930 Caulfield Cup when Phar Lap was considered invincible and Amounis in his twilight.
Eleven years later produced the earlier mentioned 1941 Melbourne Cup win aboard a horse prepared by J. Fryer, Skipton.
Skipton and Cook bested 22 others in that race in a slow paced strategic race that required almost three minutes and twenty-four seconds to produce the final outcome.
Melbourne Cup Win Again
When he won again in 1945 aboard the staying mare Rainbird against 25 other competitors, he had supplied an exclamation point to a country weary of the privations of war.
There are numerous other highlights to Billy Cook’s career. Between his start in 1925 and when he retired in 1959, he twice won the VRC Derby in 1942 and 1954. He also took two AJC Derbies in 1940 and 1946.
There were also two wins of the VRC Oaks, those occurring in 1941 and 1946. Lest it be concluded that Cook like to win races in pairs, he won three AJC Metropolitans, and three Moonee Valley Gold Cups. He managed to win the Doomben Newmarket in 1937 for the one and only time.
Cook Travels Overseas
Billy Cook was to transfer his riding expertise to other counties as well.
He needed only three months in Great Britain during 1949 to win over 40 times. That success was responsible for his being lured into a return in 1951 for an encore performance that resulted in an offer to ride for the King himself.
It would seem that Cook did not much favour the notorious clime of England, so his tenure there was brief. A distaste for travel produced a similar outcome when Cook tried to adapt to India on three different occasions beginning in 1932.
Billy Cook was fondest of Sydney and its major tracks.
He won a record 126 races in that metropolis during the 1939-40 racing season. He also was the recipient of six Sydney jockeys’ premierships spanning the years from 1931 until 1940. He was also the runner-up in that category a further ten times.
His ability to reserve his mount’s energy for the final furlongs of the staying events in which he did so well earned him the affectionate nickname of “The Champ.” Punters also referred to him as “Last Race Cookie” for his seeming ability to win the last race of a meeting and help to restore losses or increase profits.
Perhaps the greatest praise afforded him was the declaration that he never took a race off, riding with just as much effort in a preliminary as he did in a feature.
A broken leg, the result of a training accident, and a losing battle with his weight prompted his retirement in 1959. His decline was also precipitated by his receiving fewer quality rides, a not uncommon experience for older jockeys. He is credited with well beyond 2000 victories over the course of a 34 year career.
Billy Cook can proudly point to the fact that he fathered Peter, a respectable jockey in his own right and winner, like his father, of two Melbourne Cups, which his dad was to witness, in 1981 and 1984.
Inducted Into Racing Hall Of Fame In 2002
William Henry “Billy” Cook died in 1985 and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame with the second class in 2002.
Billy Cook obviously could have padded his statistics had his patriotism not gotten in the way, but he serves as a prime example of what it means to have well-ordered priorities.