John Letts Australian Jockey

John Letts

John Letts Adelaide Jockey Retires In 1988 After 30 Years Riding

While it may be true that sometime popularity and politics plays a role in the inclusion of some of the members of Australia’s Racing Hall of Fame, in the case of John Letts, his position as third all-time in terms of victories erases any possible objections to his qualifications.

In the entire recorded history of Australian racing, only Scobie Breasley and Jack Thompson can claim to have surpassed Letts’s 2350 wins that finds him an even 50 victories ahead of the fourth place rider, Roy Higgins.

John Letts: Australian Jockey

Instead of debating his worthiness, it might be more productive to question why he had to wait until 2010 to enter the Hall.

John Letts Born In Adelaide

John Letts was born in Adelaide in 1943. By the age of thirteen, he was working for trainer Jack Canavan, exercising the trainer’s horses both before and after his school lessons.

He became an apprentice for Canavan the following year and rode his first winner when he was but 15 years of age. He paid his dues for several years, and then posted his first significant win, the Goodwood Handicap, aboard Mikadis.

He was to win enough that season to take the award as Adelaide’s top apprentice. He won consistently throughout the 1960s, got his senior license and earned the right to take the ride on Rain Lover when that formidable champion won the 1968 Adelaide Cup.

Letts Wins the Goodwood Handicap

John Letts won the Goodwood Handicap for a second time that year also, this time steering Tango Miss.

He made his name well known amongst those of the interstate racing circuit in 1972 when he piloted George Hanlon trained Piping Lane for his first Melbourne Cup victory, besting 21 competitors in a most respectable sub-3:20 time.

In doing so, he beat not only Mystique, ridden by R.B. Marsh, but he also left Professor Roy Higgins and none other than Gunsynd in his wake. That victory, coincidentally, was Letts’ first run at Flemington.

Adelaide Jockeys Premiership

That year also featured the first of his eight Adelaide jockeys’ premierships.

Upon the conclusion of the 60s, John Letts enjoyed another productive decade during the 70s. He won all across the country and added victories in Tasmania and New   Zealand.

That same decade contained a near career-ending fall in 1974 that produced a serious spinal injury.

His spine broken in that incident and leaving Letts wearing a neck brace and observing the activities in the betting ring, Letts was knocked over by a punter who was either trying to get a bet down or was collecting.

That miraculously allowed Letts to move his neck once again. He was soon back in the saddle after that. Letts seized that opportunity to become a spokesman and contributor for the organization Spinal Cure Australia with which he remains associated to this day.

John Letts inaugurated the following decade with his second Melbourne Cup victory on C.S. Hayes trained Beldale Ball, again turning in a time below 3:20, leaving My Blue Denim and Love Bandit to settle for second and third.

Over the course of his career, Letts would claim wins in over 120 feature races, including five Goodwood Handicaps, two Futurity Stakes, two South Australian Oaks and the previously mentioned Melbourne Cups, the 1977 Epson Handicap and more than space here permits mentioning.

John Letts Retires In 1988

John Letts concluded his career in 1988 having spent more than 30 years as a jockey.

He maintains an involvement in racing through his mentoring efforts regarding young jockeys, commenting on races and interviewing winners at the Melbourne Spring Carnival and several other important events.

If asked, he would eagerly say that one of the greatest honours he has enjoyed is the John Letts Medal, which each year is presented to the leading jockey from his home state of South Australia.