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Treen, Francis Joseph (Frank) (1930–1993)

by Charlie Fox

This article was published online in 2019

Francis John Treen (1930–1993), jockey and chiro-manipulative therapist, was born on 3 March 1930 at Greenmount, Western Australia, second child of locally born Lucy May Treen, née Fitzpatrick, and her Victorian-born husband Lewis Fitzwilliam Treen, butcher. Frank’s parents separated when he was two, and in the depths of the Depression his mother took the two children to Albany, where her family lived and where she became a cook in a local hotel. It was a hard life and the young Treen never forgot what poverty was like.

Treen came from horse-racing families: his father had been a jockey, his uncle Harry a steeplechase rider, and members of his maternal family were racehorse owners and trainers at Albany. His mother gave him a pony when he was a boy but she required more persuasion before she would let him be a jockey. He left Albany for the stables of the Perth trainer Ted McAuliffe when he was fourteen and had his first metropolitan ride in 1946, with his initial win four races later. That season he won another sixteen to become the State’s leading apprentice, a feat he repeated for the next two seasons. His first Perth Cup win was in 1949 on Gurkha.

A natural lightweight and excellent horseman, Treen possessed a cool, unflustered disposition and a distinctive riding style, crouching low in the saddle. Before each race he researched the characteristics of his mounts and studied his race day rivals. In 1951, when he won every major race at the Perth summer carnival, the press hailed him Perth’s ‘glamour jockey’ (Sunday Times 1951, 1). But he disavowed celebrity. Quiet, modest and reserved, he was happiest at home with his family, on a racehorse, or shooting and fishing for fun.

Devoted to his mother, Treen dedicated his early career to making sure she would never want for anything. In 1951 he persuaded her to move to Perth, where he lived with her and her second husband, until he married Joan Ilma Howard, a dressmaker, at Albany on 11 May 1953 and moved to a new home near the Belmont Park racecourse. They were later to divorce. His success extended beyond Western Australia with many wins in Melbourne and elsewhere; they included an Australia Cup, a Brisbane Cup, Moonee Valley Cup, Epsom Handicap, and Hobart Cup. In 1958 he moved to Melbourne with his family for three years, and became prominent in the city’s jockey ranks. He never rode a Melbourne Cup winner; his best finish was third in 1958 on Red Pine.

Most of Treen’s two thousand wins were in Perth, including eight Perth jockey’s premierships, five Perth Cups and other major races such as the Karrakatta Plate, the Western Australian Derby, and the Railway Stakes. His best day was at Ascot racecourse in 1967 when, from seven rides, he rode six winners and a second. By the mid-1970s, acclaimed and well off, he decided to ride only for friends in the industry, on horses he thought could win. He retired in 1983.

When Treen was 25, he had begun to study equine physiology to better understand racehorses, and chiropractic as insurance against the ever-present risk of injury ending his career. After a serious fall at Flemington in 1958, he sought out Kristé Martinovich, the chiro-manipulative ‘miracle man,’ to fix his battered body. Subsequently, Treen decided to learn Martinovich’s techniques, spending hours with him until he felt confident to practise his skills on humans and horses. Among his many clients were the cricketer Dennis Lillee and the golfer Norman Von Nida; he also treated many racehorses, including the champion pacer Mt Eden. All were treated without charge. After he retired from riding he continued this work, but now for an income. He did well. People remarked on his soft and deft hands. Horses reportedly submitted to his attentions with relief and pleasure.

At the height of his career, Treen became president of the Western Australian Jockey’s Association, and after retirement created the Frank Treen medal, an annual award for Perth’s leading apprentice jockey. Shaped by his early experience of poverty, he was a generous benefactor, supporting, among others, battling jockeys and boys from the Bindoon orphanage. He was an inaugural inductee into the WA Hall of Sporting Champions in 1986, and the WA Racing Hall of Fame in 2007.

Having trained for weeks beforehand, Treen won an exhibition race for veteran jockeys in May 1993. He died suddenly at Maida Vale, Perth, on 9 September 1993, survived by his second wife Ronnie, and a son and a daughter of his first marriage. Sir Ernest Lee Steere, chairman of the Western Australian Turf Club, described him as the ‘perfect rider,’ while the trainer Albert Jordan claimed he was no ordinary champion jockey: ‘he was a genius’ (Austin 1993, 6).

Research edited by Mary Anne Jebb

Select Bibliography

  • Austin, Peter. ’A Master Moves On.’ West Australian, 10 September 1993, 6
  • Manning, Ernie. ‘The Legend Behind the Medal.’ Racing Ahead WA. Osborne Park, WA: Racing & Wagering Western Australia, November 2013, 4–8
  • Sunday Times (Perth). ‘Treen Carried to Scales After Winning on an Outsider: Collapse at Belmont.’ 23 December 1951, 5
  • Tomlinson, Jenny. Born Winners, Born Losers: A History of Thoroughbred Breeding and Racing in Western Australia since 1833. Perth: Reeve Books, 1990
  • Treen, Francis William. Personal communication

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Charlie Fox, 'Treen, Francis Joseph (Frank) (1930–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/treen-francis-joseph-frank-27998/text35731, published online 2019, accessed online 26 January 2021.

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