The last time I saw John Marshall was at a Cessnock race meeting in May of 2014. His son Taylor had rides at the meeting and he had driven the apprentice from Ron Quinton’s Randwick stables.
I was there with a Sky Racing crew to do a profile on Robert Thompson, who had set his Australian record of 4,000 wins just ten days earlier.
During the afternoon, John kindly wandered over to the Sky camera and reflected on the Robert Thompson he’d known and ridden against over the years.
It was one of many times I got to interview John Marshall, and while he was always obliging, it was obvious his great humility made it difficult for him to talk about himself. He was an intensely private person and worked hard at separating his racing life from his private life.
I recall an occasion in 1984 when Channel 9 News wanted a story on a horse called Trissaro which John was to ride in the Sydney Cup. In search of a different angle, I asked the jockey if we could get a few shots of him relaxing away from the track. He was reluctant at first, but finally agreed and welcomed the camera crew into his home in the Southern Suburbs.
He had a small private jetty at the back of the house, and actually produced a fishing rod, with which he did a couple of practice “casts” into the Georges River.
On another occasion we needed him to comment on a certain horse and found him playing tennis with fellow jockey Larry Olsen. The pair belted a few balls for the camera, before jogging a few laps around the outskirts of the tennis court.
John Marshall’s work ethic was legendary. Few jockeys have been more dedicated to trackwork and there’s no doubt his diligence won the respect and admiration of Bart Cummings. “I’ve never known a more reliable jockey than Marshall”, said Bart in one interview. “You can set your watch by him six mornings a week. He’s first to arrive and last to leave”.
John’s hard work consolidated an enduring partnership between himself and the master trainer. He won seven races on Sky Chase ( 3 G1’s), six on Shaftesbury Avenue ( 2 Gr1’s), he was the only jockey to win on Beau Zam (eleven wins including 5 Gr1’s) and eight wins on Campaign King ( 4 Gr1’s).
Years of hard work paid off for the unassuming Marshall in November 1999, when he won the Melbourne Cup for Bart on the former West Aussie Rogan Josh.
Having a quick look at the archives over Xmas, I spotted Group 1 wins on Prolific (AJC Derby), Trissaro (Sydney Cup), Full And By (Champagne Stakes), Cool River (Epsom), Allez Suez (Epsom), and On Air (AJC Oaks). He actually won a race on Saintly, but didn’t get to ride him in any of his four Group 1 wins.
I still can’t believe the 1997 Mercedes Classic isn’t on his list of Group 1 winners. This was the day his mount Arkady was beaten by Octagonal in one of the most deceptive photo finishes in racing history. I’ve seen the replay fifty times, and I still can’t give it to Octagonal. It shall remain a mystery.
He won a race on the giant mare Empire Rose, but didn’t ride her in the big races. Bart always believed that John’s mount Rosedale in the 1987 Melbourne Cup, may have been the “one that got away”. The imported horse had a chequered preparation and did well to finish a close third to Kensei and Empire Rose.
It’s very fitting that John’s name should appear on the list of Sydney premiership winners. He won the 1987/88 title with 86 wins. He had a very successful two year stint in Hong Kong riding for the Jockey Club, and the John Moore stable.
The Australian racing world joins me in extending profound sympathy to John’s wife Debbie and sons Lachie and Taylor. Young Taylor is riding out the latter part of his apprenticeship in Brisbane and will have a spiritual companion every time he goes out from now on.
John Marshall ticked every box. He had the respect of owners, trainers, fellow jockeys, administrators and media. He was a devoted husband and father. Many of us will treasure a memory or two of Johnny Marshall.
For the rest of my days, I’ll picture him with that fishing rod casting a line into the Georges River.