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Wootton, Francis Leonard (Frank) (1893–1940)

by J. A. Ryan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

This is a shared entry with:

WOOTTON FAMILY: Richard Rawson  (1867-1946), horse-trainer, Francis Leonard (1893-1940), jockey, and Stanley Thomas (1895-1986), horse-trainer, were father and sons. Richard was born on 31 March 1867 at Taree, New South Wales, second of ten children of William Wootton, bootmaker, and his wife Jane, née Rawson, from New York. William, whose parents had been convicts, became a hotelier at Taree, an alderman and a dairy farmer; he also trained some horses. Dick began his career on local tracks and at 19 won the Manning River Cup with Bay Fly. He moved to Sydney as an owner and trainer and lived at Forest Lodge. On 19 December 1893 at St Andrew's Cathedral he married with Anglican rites 19-year-old Catherine Gertrude Johnson, a blacksmith's daughter.

On the pony tracks and proprietary courses in Sydney Dick Wootton soon won repute as a trainer and punter. His eldest son Frank was born on 14 December 1893 at Glebe; Stanley was born on 26 June 1895 at Surry Hills. In 1902 Dick won the Australian Jockey Club's Metropolitan Handicap at Randwick with Queen of Sheba. The boys had a miserable childhood as their father, determined that they should become jockeys, reputedly did not permit them to have a decent meal. Frank rode track work and training gallops and at the age of 9 was thought by his father to be ready to race; but the A.J.C.'s minimum age for a registered jockey was 14. Dick moved his family and a string of horses to South Africa, where this age limit did not apply.

Settling in the Transvaal, Wootton trained at Germanston racecourse. Frank won his first race in October 1903 and left school; by 1906 his tally was seventeen. That year the Woottons returned to Sydney, where Dick quickly re-established himself by winning the 1906 Tattersall's Club Cup with Fabric. Frustrated by the wait for Frank's licence to ride, within six months the family departed for England. Dick acquired a training establishment at Treadwell House, Epsom, Surrey, but maintained his links with Australia—he brought over a kangaroo and an emu. Kate died giving birth to their fifth child in 1909.

Wootton's training methods, use of lightweight and apprenticed jockeys and careful placement of runners attracted owners such as (Sir) Edward Hulton who brought in superior horses. Beginning in 1906 with fourteen winners, in 1913 Wootton topped the English trainers' premiership with sixty-six, and expanded his training establishment at Epsom. The English Derby, however, always eluded him: in 1913 his horse Shogun, with Frank up, was checked in one of the wildest Derbys on record. Wootton had a reputation for punting plunges and well-planned coups. When accused of fixing races by the bookmaker Robert Sievier in his publication Winning Post, Wootton issued a pamphlet attacking Sievier, who unsuccessfully sued him for libel. The litigation continued, however.

Frank's riding technique and experience led, in 1909, to his becoming the first Australian to top the English jockey's premiership, with a tally of 165. Known as the 'Wonderboy', he also headed the jockeys' list in 1910-12 and won many classic races, riding on a retainer for wealthy owners such as Hulton and Lord Derby. Frank rode seven winners at the St Leger meeting at Doncaster in 1908 and at Ascot week in 1912, and ten at the Goodwood carnival in 1911. Increasing weight reduced his opportunities, however, and he had effectively retired by his visit to Sydney in January 1914.

Stanley, more interested in stable management, soon also surrendered his jockey's licence. With reduced racing in Britain during World War I, Dick continued training at Treadwell House. Frank enlisted in the army, served in Palestine and Mesopotamia and was mentioned in dispatches. Lieutenant Stanley Wootton joined the 17th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. On the night of 7 July 1916 he won the Military Cross for rescuing a fellow officer during the Battle of the Somme, France.

When his sons returned from the war, Dick left Treadwell House in their hands and by 1921 had returned to Sydney. He established R. Wootton Pty Ltd, hotel and picture theatre proprietors and property owners; his holdings included the Doncaster Hotel, Randwick, and the Doncaster and Vocalist theatres, and residential real estate at Kensington, Randwick and in the city. Wootton also bought a property, Kicatoo, at Condoblin, and developed his interest in breeding. Now wealthy, he raced his horses for recreation; his Zuleika won the Villiers Stakes at Randwick in 1927. He was appointed a judge of thoroughbred entries at the Sydney Royal Show. On 2 February 1931 at St Jude's Church of England, Randwick, he married Frances Young.

Having first won a jumping event while serving in Baghdad, after his war service Frank began a new career as a National Hunt Club jockey and trainer. Riding at 12 stone (76 kg), he retained his balanced riding technique and judgement and in 1921 won the Imperial Hunt Club Cup on Noce d'Argent, trained by Stanley. He was known for his dashing style and the risks he took. Back in Sydney from 1933, he suffered ill health, perhaps partly due to serious falls and to the exacting regime and weight wasting of his youth. He had not married. On 6 April 1940 at Central Police Court, Sydney, he was convicted of drunkenness. Later that day he died in Long Bay gaol of traumatic epilepsy and was buried with Catholic rites in Botany cemetery.

Dick died on 26 June 1946 at Randwick and was buried in the Anglican cemetery there. His wife and their three daughters survived him, as did two sons and two daughters of his first marriage.

Stan maintained a strict establishment at Epsom and remained a successful trainer of horses and jockeys until 1962. He had married Kathleen Griffiths on 15 January 1938 at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Epsom. They separated during World War II. One of the wealthiest and most powerful turf figures in England, Stan Wootton made frequent visits to Australia. From the mid-1950s he was notable as a breeder and owner in New South Wales; he invested in stud properties and sent out selected horses including the famous sire Star Kingdom, who stood at Baramul stud and produced a notable thoroughbred bloodline in Australia; his progeny included the stallions Todman, Biscay and Bletchingly, the Derby winners Sky High and Sky Line and the first five winners of the Sydney Turf Club's Golden Slipper Stakes. In Sydney, Wootton's wins as the owner included the Golden Slipper with Todman in 1957 and the Australian Jockey Club's Epsom Handicap with Noholme in 1959.

Stan Wootton died on 21 March 1986 at Epsom, England, and was buried in the cemetery there. His wife and their daughter Catherine Remond, a successful thoroughbred breeder in Australia, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Hickey, Gentlemen of the Australian Turf (Syd, 1986)
  • N. Penton, A Racing Heart (Syd, 1987)
  • B. Eacott, The Wootton Family (2003)
  • Australian Jockey Club Racing Calendar, Dec 1991
  • Sydney Mail, 28 Jan 1914, p 33
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Apr 1940, p 15, 15 Apr 1961, ‘Weekend Magazine’, p 12, 11 Apr 2003, ‘The Form’, p 15.

Citation details

J. A. Ryan, 'Wootton, Francis Leonard (Frank) (1893–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wootton-francis-leonard-frank-13286/text3817, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 26 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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