Neville Sellwood: Jockey
|Australian Horse Racing|
Neville Sellwood: Australian Jockey
Neville Sellwood: More than one jockey has had his career, his life, or both cut short due to the inherent risks of riding powerful thoroughbreds at top speed against others that are doing that exact same thing.
This supplies a natural temptation to speculate on what may have been that jockey’s future had he been able to soldier on until old age or conscious decision intervened.
Racing history is rife with examples of horses that seemed destined for greatness except for injuries or illness and jockeys who suffered from the vagaries of fate and chance circumstance.
For our proof of this racing fact of life, the story of Neville Sellwood is illustrative. He was just 39 when a wet track in Paris cost him his life, just as he was reaching his peak.
As a boy, Sellwood’s family did all in their power to dissuade young Neville from seeking a racing career. They tried, unsuccessfully, to steer him toward a career in law. He was at best a desultory student and may even have engaged in deliberate sabotage to his educational pursuits. He worked at a pharmacy briefly, but that lost out to an apprenticeship in Brisbane in 1938 over the strong objections of his parents.
He was a winner for the first time shortly after, riding Ourimbah at Doomben racecourse in March of 1939.
History of a sort aside from that of racing resulted in Sellwood being pressed into his country’s service in the military in 1942. He was accepted, unlike many jockeys who were rejected due to size concerns. He was fortunate to draw a posting close to home, however, and a commanding officer who realized that Sellwood was meant to race horses enabled him to do track work and ride in local meetings in both Brisbane and Townsville.
He made 290 attempts during that period, winning almost half. He won three consecutive premierships during that stint and was considered such an asset that he often caused the odds on his mounts to plunge to no better than even.
Neville Sellwood, toward the war’s end, was married and was to eventually produce three progeny, two daughters and one son.
He began to produce prodigiously upon his discharge in 1946, this time in the big arena of Sydney, and by 1948 he had returned two jockeys’ premierships as prelude to another three that were to follow.
The final year of the 40s saw him notching his first two major wins. He rode Delta on both occasions in winning the VRC Derby and the Cox Plate, and was aboard again in 1951 when that when that great champion notched the greatest of his 22 career wins in the Melbourne Cup.
Eager to prove that his abilities were not confined to Australian turf, he rode with great success in both England and the United States.
Neville Sellwood also dominated his native land, winning three additional VRC Derbys, three Caulfield Cups, two Epsom Handicaps and a second Melbourne Cup in 1955 when he took T.J. Smith trained Toparoa home, denying Jack Purtrell and Rising fast in one of the more strategically run Cups.
These accomplishments, as was and is fitting, earned him the right to ride horses such as Todman, producing 10 victories, including 1957’s Golden Slipper Stakes, and Tulloch, producing another 12 wins.
A venture to England in 1962, where he was a keen judge of pace and possessor of astute racing tactics produced what could ostensibly be considered, Melbourne Cups aside, his greatest victory when he steered Larkspur for a win in the English Derby.
That same season saw him notching 102 wins in France to secure for him the French jockeys’ premiership.
These spectacular accomplishments came to an abrupt end in early November of 1962, when it could safely be said that Neville Sellwood should have been at home preparing for the Cup. He was at a track near Paris when his horse slipped on a wet track and went down with Sellwood beneath. He died before he could reach the hospital. It took scant seconds to put a stop to more than 20 years of high performance.
Neville Sellwood was just 39 at the time. Given that jockeys of his calibre before him had often competed to the age of 50, or even beyond in some instances, it would seem obvious that Sellwood, even if he were to experience the typical late-career decline, had quite a few years of productivity remaining to him.
The inevitable “what if?” questions surrounding his career are just one facet of his compelling story.
He was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in the sophomore class of 2002. A race in Sydney, the Neville Sellwood Stakes, further commemorates the memory of this figurative giant of the Australian turf.