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William Raphael Johnstone (1905–1964)

by Andrew Lemon

This article was published:

William Raphael Johnstone (1905-1964), jockey, was born on 13 April 1905 at New Lambton, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Robert James Johnstone, coalminer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Harney. After his parents separated, Rae lived with his mother in Sydney and attended Marist Brothers' High School, Darlinghurst. Apprenticed at 14 to the Newcastle trainer Jack Phoenix, the diminutive Johnstone rode his first winner, Grey Arrow, at Rosehill in June 1920. He rode over one hundred winners in the 1920-21 season, but began betting, fell foul of the stewards and endured several suspensions. In 1925 Johnstone was banned from riding in Sydney for several months because he had gained access to his earnings (protected while an apprentice) and married Ruby Isabel Hornery-Ford on 20 June at the district registrar's office, Randwick. At Armidale in November 1927 he conspired to lose a race and was banned for two years. Beset by financial problems and a collapsing marriage, he resumed racing in 1930.

Riding with renewed zest in India in 1931 for expatriate trainer Alec Higgins, Johnstone was offered engagements in England by Sir Victor Sassoon's racing manager. He arrived there in 1932, but found better prospects riding for Pierre Wertheimer in France. Life in Paris appealed to him, and he became romantically involved with Marie Marcelle Augustine Goubé ('Gui'), a dancer at the Folies-Bergère. Johnstone was the leading jockey in France three times in the 1930s. His first classic wins were in England in 1934, for the Cardiff shipowner, Lord Glanely. High living, casinos and what Johnstone called 'a certain hypnotic fascination for the limelight' ensured that he retained little of his large earnings.

He was equally cavalier about World War II. Rejected for military service, he rode in India in 1939-40, but returned to Paris where, on 12 March 1940, he married Marie (whom he called Mary). They made their way to Monte Carlo. Johnstone contrived to ride at meetings at Lyon, Vichy and Marseilles until late 1942 before being interned by the Italians. He claimed that he escaped from a German-bound train in 1944 and was helped to cross the military lines to liberated Paris. By mid-December that year he was back in the saddle.

Embarking upon what was to be a celebrated decade, Johnstone won the 1945 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. He rode for some of the wealthiest owners in Europe, including the Aga Khan and Leon Volterra. On their horse, My Love, in 1948 Johnstone became the first Australian jockey to win the (English) Derby. Within three weeks he had added the French and Irish Derbys. He lost the 1949 (English) Derby in a photo finish, but was acclaimed for his daring victory next year on Galcador, at a time when he was retained (for three years) by Marcel Boussac's stables in France and England. Their partnership netted seven classic winners in 1950. Johnstone achieved his third (English) Derby, on Lavandin in 1956. He won thirty classic races in England, Ireland and France, and rode in eleven countries. Few Australians witnessed his mature riding skills and how he spared the whip. Jack Pollard, who saw him ride in France and England, described him as 'a bobby-dazzler, daring, crafty, able to spot an opening before his rivals, and a masterly judge of pace'.

Johnstone had become a European celebrity. Following his last ride, in June 1957 at Longchamp, he trained horses in France and published his memoirs, The Rae Johnstone Story (London, 1958). He attributed his 'oriental look' to his mixed descent (Irish-German and Portuguese-Welsh) and was offended by being nicknamed 'Togo' (after the Japanese admiral). To the French, he was 'Le Crocodile' who came 'from behind to gobble up the field'. Johnstone died on 29 April 1964 at Chantilly. He divided his estate between his wife and his mistress, Margo Winnick.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Pollard, Australian Horse Racing (Syd, 1988)
  • People (Sydney), 28 Mar 1951
  • Sports Illustrated (Chicago, US), 22 July 1957, p 43
  • Turf Monthly, Mar 1978
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Nov, 14 Dec 1927, 17, 23 May 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1933
  • Age (Melbourne), 20 July 1957
  • Herald (Melbourne), 15 Nov 1965.

Citation details

Andrew Lemon, 'Johnstone, William Raphael (1905–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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