Pat Hyland holding award at Flemington

Master of Horses

Legendary jockey turned trainer Pat Hyland retired in July 2020 after many years in the game. Here, he reflects his journey and achievements in the industry. 

The day before Pat Hyland turned 15 was a fateful one. That was the moment the brash teenager marched into the stables of Hall of Fame trainer Jim Moloney and began his evolution into a champion jockey.

Hyland grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Port Fairy and handling a horse came with the territory. He used to ride a pony bareback to school in Geelong and park it in a nearby paddock for the day. But young Hyland wasn't much for school and had called it quits by the end of Grade 6. He landed a job as a telegram boy, which lasted for 18 months, at the local post office before joining Moloney.

“I used to have a bet when I was a kid,” he said cheekily. “I was a bit of a mad punter. That’s why I had to work. I had to make money to have a punt, but when I joined the stable the first thing I was told by the boss was if you’re going to be in this business you’re not allowed to bet. So he barred me from punting. It was probably a good thing.”

History shows there isn’t much Hyland hasn’t seen or achieved in racing. A riding career spanning three decades netted 30 Group 1 wins and the coveted grand slam for jockeys: the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Golden Slipper.

When talking to Hyland, the mention of horses and people triggers vivid memories that make his eyes sparkle.

“When you’ve been a jockey and you’ve had quite a bit of success, people are really interested in talking about it,” he explained, “so you don’t get much time to forget about the past.” 

He recalls breaking his leg after just three months in the game and having a pin inserted that runs from the hip down to the knee.

And he remembers winning the 1985 Melbourne Cup on What A Nuisance on a rainy day at Flemington, settling well back in the run on the fence and never going around a horse until a furlong out. The celebrations moved well on into the dark of night, and then some.

Then there’s the infamous match race between Hyland on Rain Lover and Roy Higgins on Big Philou, a battle that evolved by chance when the two gun horses were the sole acceptors in the 1970 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington. It’s a tale still told in pubs today and one that elicits enthusiasm from Hyland.

“There was only a half-head in it at the finish,” he said, without a hint of bitterness at running second. “He probably got a half neck on me 50 or 60 metres out and then Rain Lover found again. In another stride he might have beat him but the race was only a mile and a half, not a mile and a half and one stride.”  

And of course, there was Vain. The unforgettably freakish sprinter who many old-timers including Hyland himself swear that even Black Caviar couldn’t have touched. Hyland rode plenty of good horses, but none like Vain, a champion of the 1968-69 season.

“We had two two-year-olds that year,” he said. “He was one and Brief Sentence was the other. They worked together and it wasn’t until we took them to the two furlongs trials at Mentone that we tested them.

“Brief Sentence won the first trial and Vain won the second. Brief Sentence finished up winning one race at Moonee Valley and Vain went on to be an out-and-out champion.”

When the time came, at age 48, to hang up his boots after a decorated career, Hyland had already been plotting to transition into training.

“I always had a passion to train and it just seemed the right time to bow out,” he said. “There is a great thrill in getting horses to win and be successful. When you ride for as long as I did and then give it away, what are you going to do? You’re not going to go out and milk cows.”

Hyland began training in 1990 and maintained a handy stable of a dozen or so horses. He borrowed his training philosophy from New Zealand, keeping his horses out in paddocks during the day where they were free to roam.

Hyland counts winning the 1995 Crown Oaks with Saleous as his biggest success.

“She won the Wakeful Stakes on the Saturday then the Crown Oaks on the Thursday,” he recalled fondly. “That was a huge thrill for us. We’d won a lot of nice races prior to that, but she was the first really good horse we trained.”

Another highlight came in 2014 when Bonaria bagged the country’s most sought-after mares’ race, the Group 1 Myer Classic at Flemington, during the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

“She was an excellent mare. We had her since she was a baby, she came to us when she was 18 months old. She gave us a lot of fun,” he said. 

A usual day for Hyland when training was to rise at a quarter to three each morning and alongside training, he also rode most of his own trackwork. He said it kept him fit and allowed him to gauge his charges first-hand.

Hyland and his wife Maree have six children, with Maree taking care of the kids while Hyland travelled as a jockey across to the state chasing a quid.

Many of the younger Hylands have become involved in racing in some capacity and this fills both parents with pride. “We’re very proud,” he said. “When I started in racing I was probably the only Hyland in the game.”

Pat Hyland’s contribution to the sport of kings will be forever etched in the record books, and we wish him all the best in his retirement.

By Robert Fedele