This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988
James Scobie (1860-1940), horse-trainer, was born on 18 July 1860 at Ararat, Victoria, son of Scottish parents William Scobie, stonemason, and his wife Marion, née McVicar. After a brief education Scobie worked as a horseboy and jockey in western Victoria. In 1880 he rode his first metropolitan jumping winner, as stable rider for Robert Howie of Ballarat. Handsome, at that time mustachioed, he was a determined but usually friendly rival of Tommy Corrigan, and between 1882 and 1893 rode and trained the winners of each of the principal jumping races in Melbourne and at Oakbank, South Australia.
Scobie bought stables at Miners Rest near Ballarat from Howie in 1882, and later a farm in the same area. His first major training wins on the flat were the 1885 Hobart and Australian Cups for Norman Wilson, then master of the Ballarat Hounds. A lover of cross-country riding and a rider of great prowess, Scobie was huntsman of that pack. He also shot, as a member of the Melbourne Gun Club.
On 2 February 1888 he married Joan Shaw Paterson at Ballarat. Their sons both became trainers: Norman in Melbourne and England, Austin as foreman to his father. In My Life on the Australian Turf (Melbourne, 1929) Scobie remarked that marriage saw a considerable contraction in his betting.
He deliberately sought rich patrons. About 1892 he began a long association with (Sir) Rupert Clarke and his brother Ernest. In 1900 he trained Maltster to win the first of his Australian Jockey Club and Victoria Racing Club Derbys, and his first Melbourne Cup winner, Clean Sweep. Though a prolific winner of races for two-year-olds, Scobie most liked conditioning stayers, and was proud that his horses were rarely beaten in the run-offs then common after dead heats. Ernest Clarke established a stud at Melton in 1906 with Scobie as non-resident manager.
At the urging of R. G. Casey, then chairman of the V.R.C., and others, in 1911 Scobie moved to Pytchley Lodge, Flemington. There he prepared the Melbourne Cup winners King Ingoda (1922), Bitalli (1923) and Trivalve (1927), and the unlucky second, Stand By (1924). Trivalve, also a dual Derby winner, had been bred at the Melton stud. However, Bitalli's win educed perhaps the public's greatest tribute to Scobie. The horse was delicate, and Scobie had to bring it gradually to fitness, without racing it for over three months. Still the public backed it, 'first up', to 4/1 favourite.
Scobie continued training almost to his death. He won his eighth Victoria Derby in 1937 (Hua) and fifth South Australian Jockey Club Derby in 1939 (Lusson). Neat, ascetic, in later life he used a walking-stick to save a thrice-broken leg. Exacting on his horses and his men, intent on his profession ('you can't train a horse and be knocking around the city'), he reflected his own values in praising his jockey of forty years, Bob Lewis: 'scrupulously attentive to duty … clock-work regularity … right in every particular'.
Survived by his son Norman, Scobie died in Melbourne on 5 October 1940 and was cremated, leaving an estate valued for probate at £57,962.
S. J. Routh, 'Scobie, James (1860–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scobie-james-8365/text14679, accessed 19 May 2013.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988