Todd Pannell was so busy trying to coax Despatch over the line on Saturday, he may have forgotten for a moment that he was one stride off his first Group 1 victory.
By the time he arrived back at the mounting yard gate, he was fully aware this was the dream he’d been chasing for more than half his life.
He’s nearing 1000 career wins and this was his sixteenth ride at the elite level, but never before had he experienced the adrenaline rush that comes with winning a race like the historic Goodwood Hcp.
When Despatch “flew the gates” Todd wasn’t about to waste the advantage. He elected to hold the front, and by the time they reached the 800 metres mark the reformed barrier rogue was in a beautiful rhythm.
The gelding was safely holding his nearest rivals in the shadows of the post, when Behemeth finally got clean air and jumped out of the ground. His jockey Anthony Darmanin declared his mount a good thing beaten and it’s hard to disagree.
It was three on the trot for the vastly improved Despatch and his seventh win from just eleven starts. It was hard to believe this was the same horse who’d been twice scratched at the barrier recently for failing to load. Something as simple as a blindfold has turned him around.
Family, friends and astute racing people have known for years it was only a matter of time before Todd Pannell rode a Group 1 winner. He’s been in the top echelon of Adelaide jockeys since returning from Queensland nine years ago.
He currently occupies fourth spot on the metro ladder and is second on the state list. When riding a thoroughbred, he belies his height of 176 cm as did the brilliant Steve Arnold during his career.
Premiership leader Raquel Clark said recently that Todd Pannell is one of her Adelaide role models. “Nobody in this state looks neater on a horse than Todd’, said the talented young rider.
Champion trainer Leon Macdonald describes him as an outstanding jockey, who rides with great patience.
Todd’s services are regularly sought by trainers like Tony McEvoy, Will Clarken, Ryan Balfour, Travis Doudle, Phillip Stokes, and Grant Young. He’s often lured to Port Lincoln by Simon Drewitt and Darryl Carrison.
Apart from the Goodwood winner, Tony McEvoy also put him on the outsider Resurge in the recent SA Derby. Team Hawkes were quick to seek his services when they brought Amangiri to Adelaide for the Schweppes Oaks on May 4th. Unhappily the filly didn’t produce her Sydney form and Michael Hawkes was of the opinion she was “over the top”.
Few realise that John Hawkes has had a massive influence on the jockey’s career. Todd’s father David worked for Hawkes for a total of eighteen years, the last eleven as Crown Lodge’s Adelaide foreman.
David had tried his hand as a jockey in Victoria, even competing in a few jumping races in SA towards the end of his brief career. “Dad’s the first to admit he was no Lester Piggott”, said Todd over the weekend. “He follows my career very closely and was over the moon when I won the Goodwood on Saturday”.
John Hawkes gave his approval for Todd Pannell to begin his apprenticeship under the watchful eye of his father. “I learned all the basics of horse management in Adelaide, before graduating to track work and even a few trials”, recalled Todd. “Riding in races seemed such a long way off”.
He was just seventeen when John Hawkes suddenly whisked him to the Inghams Melbourne establishment Carbine Lodge. “In the year I spent in Melbourne I must have ridden in fifty trials”, said the jockey. “Trial after trial went by and I was thinking a race ride would never happen. I’ll never forget the day Wayne Hawkes told me I was riding Wolfman in a maiden at Cranbourne.
The date was 24/04/03 and the young jockey was pretty excited to run a half head second to Craig Newitt’s mount Snitch. Two weeks later he ran another close second on the same horse at Ballarat. At last his career was under way and Todd was delighted when John Hawkes decided to switch him to the Warwick Farm stable.
Under Crown Lodge’s four state stable system, the apprentice was frequently moved from place to place. “Paul Snowden was my best mate in those days and usually had the job of driving me to the airport”, said Todd. “They would often shuttle me interstate if my claim was needed. Sometimes I’d remain in Melbourne, Brisbane or Adelaide for weeks on end”.
Todd’s magic moment came on 19/07/03 when Crown Lodge put him on a Quest For Fame gelding called Finecke in a maiden at Kembla Grange. “He was an ordinary horse, in an ordinary race but boy it was a thrill to ride my first winner’, recalled the jockey.
Four months later Todd was working in the Adelaide complex, when that elusive city winner came along. By an amazing quirk of fate it was his old mate Wolfman, who’d been transferred from Melbourne.
The race was a Class 2 at the defunct Cheltenham Park course, which was sold to developers in 2009. “It was almost as though Wolfman followed me around”, said Todd. “Two years later he was racing out of our Brisbane stable and I won another race on him at Eagle Farm”.
Todd was still working for Michael Hawkes in Brisbane when his indentureship came to an end. “I look back on my apprenticeship to the Hawkes team with satisfaction and gratitude”, recalls Todd. “Few kids have had a better life than I had over those important early years”.
John Hawkes was well aware his former apprentice had won a maiden Group 1 on Saturday. “I’m very proud of all Todd has achieved”, said the champion trainer over the weekend. “He was always a pleasure to have around the stable. His politeness and good manners earned him the respect of workmates everywhere. He was a talented race rider and a thorough horseman”.
John Hawkes gave young Todd opportunities in stakes races whenever his established stable riders were unavailable. Those opportunities enabled him to win a Listed Tatt’s Mile at Eagle Farm on Terrace and a Gr 3 Breeders Stakes on London Lolly at Morphettville. All up Todd has ridden eleven Listed winners and five at Group 3 level.
The three established Crown Lodge jockeys who had a lasting impression on the young jockey, were Darren Beadman, Rodney Quinn and Corey Brown. “All wonderful riders and terrific blokes”, said Todd. “They never stopped helping me”.
At the completion of his apprenticeship, Pannell decided to remain in Queensland while he sorted out his future. It was around this time he asked Melissa Shield to consider acting as his manager - a move which resulted in a great business association and an even greater friendship.
Melissa is married to successful Queensland jockey Shane Shield who recently retired after a horror run with injuries. “He says he’s retired but he only needs half an excuse to give it another go”, said Melissa”.
The hard working mother of three took control of Todd’s riding engagements in 2006. She carefully guided his career, establishing strong contacts in several parts of Queensland. “I often sent him to Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton”, recalled Melissa. “He’d ride wherever I could get him the strongest book. Todd is such a professional. If he makes a commitment it would take an earthquake to keep him away”.
Todd remained in Queensland for two full years after coming out of his time. He worked hard, travelled extensively, rode many winners and made a million friends. “Because I was all over the place, I couldn’t really build a solid support base’, recalled the talented jockey. “In the end I decided to head home to Adelaide in the hope I could link up with one or two strong stables”.
Modern communications have enabled Melissa to continue in the role of Todd’s manager. In the nine years since his return to Adelaide the popular jockey has built up a strong clientele with whom Melissa enjoys great rapport.
Apart from Todd, she currently manages Jason Taylor, Bobby El-Issa and Tiffani Brooker who’s close to resuming after many months on the sideline with serious back issues. Over the years riders like Michael Pelling, Jeff Lloyd, Daniel Griffin and Ryan Plumb have utilised the services of the dedicated manager.
Todd Pannell’s in a comfortable space at the moment. At 34 he’s approaching his best years as a professional jockey, with Saturday’s Group 1 success providing great impetus. He lives the quiet life with partner Crystal Winning and five year old son Jack.
Crystal straps many of the Hayes/Hayes/Dabernig runners when they travel to Adelaide and was in charge of Valac when the ghostly grey won the Group 3 Queen’s Cup on Saturday. Victorian born Crystal touched the hearts of many horse lovers in a post-race TV interview, when she showed great affection for the gentle gelding.
Todd Pannell is one of racing’s true quiet achievers. He shuns the spotlight and is clearly uncomfortable with the bells and whistles of the winners circle.
He’ll just have to get used to it!
(Banner image courtesy AtkinsPhotography.com.au - Despatch wins the Goodwood Handicap from the unlucky Behemeth)