JOHN HISLOP, owner-breeder of the great champion racehorse Brigadier Gerard, was probably the finest amateur jockey of all time on the Flat, an excellent rider over obstacles and an outstanding racing journalist. On several occasions after watching Hislop competing in a bumper (amateur Flat race) Sir Gordon Richards said: 'Thank God that chap's not two stone lighter' - and the great jockey meant it.
Hislop was born in 1911 to Scottish parents in Quetta, India, where his father, Major Arthur Hislop, a noted amateur rider, polo-player and pigsticker, was serving in the 35th Scinde Horse. On his father's death soon after the end of the First World War, John and his mother returned to England, and John went first to preparatory school and then to Wellington.
In 1930 he went to Sandhurst, joining a company which included future good amateur jockeys such as Bobby Petre, who was to win the Grand National on Lovely Cottage. Hislop was in the top ride but, after only one term, was invalided out to have a kidney removed. A year later he went first as pupil, then assistant trainer, to Victor Gilpin at Newmarket. He rode a lot of work with leading jockeys throughout the Flat season and, during the winter, rode out for Tom Leader and hunted.
Another winter was spent with Tom Masson, an exceptional horsemaster, trainer of every kind of horse and of jockeys of the calibre of Jimmy Lindley, and who then farmed near Welwyn Garden City. 'To his teaching I owed most of any skill or horsemanship I ever acquired,' Hislop said.
In 1932, after two disastrous point-to-point rides (a refusal and a broken collar-bone), Hislop gained his first success on a chance ride, High Jinks, in the Newmarket and Thurlow Farmers' race. His first win under Rules came in April 1935 in a hunter-chase at Bungay on Catlap, a mare whom Hislop owned and trained. In the same year, Hislop accompanied Victor Gilpin on his move to Michel Grove, near Findon in Sussex, close to Tom Masson, who by this time was established as a public trainer at Lewes.
Hislop gained his first hurdles success at Hawthorn Hill in March 1936 on his own horse Tramaway, beating Rodeo, ridden by the leading hurdles jockey Staff Ingham, by a neck. It was the turning-point of his race-riding career. Through that victory he got a number of winning rides in bumpers on Rodeo and others soon followed. In the two seasons before the war he was champion amateur on the Flat.
In 1938 Hislop had his first ride in the Grand National, then held on a Friday, on Hurdy Gurdy Man, whose lad, just before loosing him from the parade, said: 'This one won't get far, guv'nor. But when you fall, try to keep 'old of 'im. I don't want to have to chase all over bleedin' Lancashire after 'im.' Hislop commented: 'I found this rather disconcerting.' In the event he parted company at the fence after Becher's Brook first time round. However, he rode the same horse next day in the Foxhunters over the same course and distance to finish fourth. 'I was a bit unlucky because he lost a lot of ground trying to bank the Chair.'
As soon as war was declared he went to France with the Sussex Yeomanry (98th Field Regiment RA), was transferred to the 21st Anti-Tank Regiment and was evacuated from Dunkirk. Back home Hislop was transferred to GHQ Liaison Regiment (Phantom), but a bad fall at Cheltenham kept him out of the Army for 18 months, followed by a spell on the staff at Chester. In early 1944 he returned to Phantom, joining Jakie (later Sir John) Astor's Squadron attached to the SAS. After commando operations, first in Loyton in the Vosges with the 2nd SAS, and then on the Dutch-German border, he was awarded the Military Cross.
With peace he returned to racing and became as much the punters' friend among amateurs as Gordon Richards was among the professionals. His superb style, offering minimum wind resistance, judgement of pace, precision timing, balance and perfect rhythmic power in a finish had to be seen (and ridden against) to be believed.
On the Flat, despite steadily decreasing opportunities, Hislop rode the winners of 102 races, including one at Ostend and one in Norway. He was champion amateur for 13 successive seasons (1938-39 and 1946-56), jointly on three occasions. His chief trainers were those masters of their craft Sam Armstrong and George Todd. His best season, 1946, featured 18 rides, 13 winners, a second and only four unplaced.
He rode the winners of 48 races under National Hunt Rules including an amateur riders' hurdle at Fontwell on National Spirit in 1946, the 1948 Golden Miller Chase on Cloncarrig and the 1949 Coronation Hurdle at Liverpool on Coubrador. Riding Kami, he was third to Caughoo in the 1947 Grand National. In his best season over jumps, 1938-39, he finished third on the amateurs' list with 14 wins, just behind Bobby Petre and Dicky Black.
In 1941 Hislop bought his first broodmare, Orama, who became the dam of 13 winners, including Oceama, dam of the Australian champions Todman and Noholme. Then he bought Respite, who, when mated with Nasrullah, produced the 2,000 Guineas winner Nearula. He was joint-breeder of Stokes, runner-up in the 2,000 Guineas of 1951 and half-brother to La Paiva, a mare who failed to win.
Undoubtedly his greatest triumph, with his wife Jean, was to breed and own La Paiva's son Brigadier Gerard, winner of 17 races from 18 starts, including the Middle Park Stakes, 2,000 Guineas, Sussex Stakes, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (twice), Eclipse Stakes and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. With Jean he was leading owner and leading breeder in 1972.
'The Brigadier' was one of the truly great horses of the post-war era, an exceptional miler who was almost as good over 10 furlongs and also won the King George over a mile and a half. He beat Mill Reef and My Swallow decisively in a vintage 2,000 Guineas in 1971, and regularly trounced top-class rivals by wide margins. His talent, courage and consistency marked him as a champion among champions, and his one defeat, by Roberto at York in 1972, will forever remain a mystery.
As a journalist and author, Hislop was outstanding. His knowledge and authority stood out like a beacon, and his style was easy and fluent. He was racing correspondent to the Observer for 16 years and then to the News of the World; breeding correspondent to the Sporting Chronicle and then to the Sporting Life; and managing director of the British Racehorse. His books, treasured by all true racing people, include Steeplechasing (with John Skeaping), From Start to Finish, The Turf, Racing Reflections, Of Horses and Races, Far from a Gentleman, Anything but a Soldier, The Brigadier and Flat Race Riding.
Elected to the Jockey Club in 1971, he was an invaluable asset to the Pattern Race Committee and the Disciplinary Committee. He was a steward at the Newmarket Craven Meeting and at Sandown and Salisbury, where he had dominated the amateur scene for so long.
Always with the interests of racing at heart, John Hislop was chairman of the New Astley Club for stable and stud staff in Newmarket, and trustee of the Stable Lads' Welfare Trust and Racing Welfare Charities. John and Jean had two sons - Ian, a merchant banker, and Andrew, a writer.
The French translate 'To ride as an amateur' as 'Monter a gentleman'. Hislop was the last of the great gentleman riders - in every sense.