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Tommy Woodcock and Reckless
, 1977 (printed 2010)

by Bruce Postle

type C photograph (sheet: 35.8 cm x 50.6 cm, image: 30.4 cm x 40.5 cm)

Aaron ‘Tommy’ Woodcock (1905–1985), horse strapper and trainer, was the son of a Cobb & Co driver and was close to horses from childhood. Apprenticed as a jockey at fourteen, he moved from the north coast of NSW to Randwick, where he won three of his first four starts. Although at the age of sixteen he weighed just 32 kilos, in due course he physically outgrew the job. Horses loved him and in 1929, trainer Harry Telford asked him to care for Phar Lap full-time. The pair was inseparable; Woodcock often slept beside the beast and legend has it that Phar Lap (or Bobby, as Woodcock called him) would not accept food from anyone else. Phar Lap died at the age of six in California in 1932, Woodcock by his side; Woodcock had his own theory as to the cause of his death, but he never revealed it. In 1931 Woodcock had gained his trainer’s licence; after working on the land during the war, he ran racehorses out of stables at Mentone and then Mordialloc. Late in his career, Reckless, who won the Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane Cups, was prominent amongst his steeds. This photograph was taken before the 1977 Melbourne Cup, in which Reckless ran second to Bart Cumming’s Gold and Black.

Bruce Postle (b. 1940) had heard that Tommy Woodcock slept alongside his horses before a big race. Having promised his editor that he already had a great front-page shot for the Melbourne Cup issue of the Age, Postle crept down to the stables with a lilo, which he placed gingerly beside Reckless. Entreated by Postle to lie down, a protesting Woodcock eventually relented. Postle exposed two frames and this one was used on the front page of the Age the next day.

© Bruce Postle
Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds provided by James Bain AM and Janette Bain 2010
Accession number: 2010.9