George Moore was the champion jockey given the evocative nickname "Cotton Fingers" for his gossamer touch with half-ton racehorses, as well as being known as Australia's Lester Piggott. Such accolades were well deserved, yet the boy from Mackay on Queensland's north coast was very much more than a source of pride merely for antipodean racing fans. The scale of his achievements when riding for two brief spells in Europe, and then when he turned to the art of training with rich success, marked him down as an exemplar of the turf.
Moore ranked alongside Scobie Breasley as the greatest jockey in the history of racing in Australia. He was champion jockey in Sydney on 10 occasions between 1957 and 1969, won the AJC Derby six times and rode Tulloch, one of Australia's finest racehorses, to 19 of his 36 wins in a career spanning 2,278 victories.
It was after two working summers in France that in 1959 Moore accepted a retainer to ride for Prince Aly Khan, whose band of élite horses was prepared by the singular owner/trainer Alec Head. That first year the triumvirate was blessed with a horse of the calibre of Saint Crespin, who won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and, with Moore on board, was awarded France's biggest race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, after dead heating in a driving finish.
Further élite success came with Taboun (2,000 Guineas), Fiorentina (Irish 1,000 Guineas) and Ginetta (French 1,000 Guineas) and thereafter Moore's contract was renewed for 1960. It was an ill-starred year as the prince died in a car crash, which meant that Moore rode for the rest of the year for the owner's son, the present Aga Khan.
Wins continued to flow, on Charlottesville in the French Derby and Grand Prix de Paris, and on Sheshoon in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. A rich year on the track also yielded wins in the St James's Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes, Coronation Stakes and Ebor Handicap.
Back home in Australia, Moore soon picked up the thread of his phenomenal association with Tommy Smith, the trainer of Tulloch and creator of the "Cotton Fingers" sobriquet. Their relationship was best described as tempestuous. Rows would escalate as Moore was particularly strong willed, and far from puritanical. In 1954 he was banned for two and a half years for betting on a horse called Flying East before it won a race at Hawkesbury. Moore was the horse's registered owner, but happened to be riding another horse in the same race. It was on his return from purdah that he gained his first Sydney championship, at the age of 33.
In 1966, an opportunity arose in England when Piggott opted to ride as a freelance. The trainer Noel Murless issued the call to Moore to replace Piggott as stable jockey at the prestigious Warren Place Stakes in Newmarket. The following year was one of the best enjoyed by Murless in a highly distinguished career.
Murless and Moore won the first three English Classics, the 2,000 Guineas and Derby with Jim Joel's Royal Palace, and the 1,000 Guineas with Fleet. In the Derby, Moore beat Piggott's mount Ribocco into second place. Also in the stable was Busted, who matured from a role as lead horse for Royal Palace to become the best in Europe. He went through 1967 unbeaten, winning the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot only to break down with injury days before the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
A glorious year was tainted by events off the racecourse, however, and Moore returned home after just one season with Murless. The jockey had received phone calls threatening that Iris, his wife, and Michelle, his daughter, would be killed if he failed to win or lose to order. His flat in London was broken into and his clothes cut to pieces.
Moore retired at the age of 48 after winning the AJC Derby and Victoria Derby on Classic Mission. Oddly, he had never won Australia's greatest race, the Melbourne Cup, finishing third at best. Moore's haul of 119 wins in Group One races remains a record for an Australian rider.
Piggott recalled Moore warmly, noting: "Everyone thought we were great rivals because he was riding for Noel and I'd been riding for him the year before, but we were good friends really. He was one of the great jockeys and, along with Scobie Breasley, they were the best to come from Australia in my time." Alec Head recalled another side of Moore, saying: "We got on okay, but he was a tough man. He has his temperament, just like some horses."
Moore's second career as racehorse trainer started in France in 1972 but it was not long before he transferred to Hong Kong, where he won 11 championships. In 1972 he was appointed OBE.
Tony SmurthwaiteReuse content