George Thomas Donald “Cotton Fingers” Moore (5 July 1923 – 8 January 2008) enjoyed a highly productive career as an Australian jockey on the racecourses of his native country. He also won a race in the United States and more than a few in Europe.
When he retired from riding, he turned his attention towards Asia and become a dominant force as a trainer in Hong Kong. He has also contributed two sons, Gary and John that have made major contributions to the sport to such an extent that it would not be hyperbole to mention the Moore family name alongside Waterhouse, Smith and Cummings as one of the most influential in the history of Australian thoroughbred racing.
It would probably have to be said that his main contribution as a rider was the ability to win the big events, although he never managed to win either the Melbourne or the Caulfield Cups.
When he was done, however, he had produced 119 victories in events that would eventually become recognised as Group 1 quality. It remains for history to unfold to see if any of the currently active jockeys that are near the top of the Group 1 victory list will persevere to eclipse Moore’s mark.
As a trainer, Moore got a brief start in France before returning to Australia, and then heading to Hong Kong. He won the Hong Kong premiership eleven times. He was surpassed in that record by Brian Kan, over fifteen years after he had quit the horse racing industry for keeps. It remained for his son John to restore the Moore family glory when he passed Kan in 2005 and went on to put the victories by a trainer record to stratospheric levels.
Moore got his start in Brisbane in 1938 as an apprentice to Louis Dahl. Soon thereafter, he moved to Jim Shean’s operation, where he was a stablemate of Neville Sellwood, who was less than a year his senior. A historical perspective makes it quite pleasurable to imagine having two jockeys of this calibre early on in their careers. Moore would produce his first major metropolitan win in 1940 when he piloted Overdraft to victory.
Moore would go on to capture the top spot in the Brisbane racing scene, prompting a move to Sydney, where he was given, or more accurately, earned a spot with trainer T.J. Smith. The partnership was more than a little tempestuous at times, quite publicly so, but the results speak for themselves and it would seem that Moore, despite his somewhat argumentative relationship with Smith, was absorbing the kind of information that would serve him well when he tried his hand as a trainer.
It was during his early years that he began to display an almost telepathic ability to urge his mounts to maximum exertion through his touch on the reins. It was as though the used that ability to evaluate a horse’s condition and sense what effort the horse was capable of providing and to send information the opposite way to communicate to the horse when it should hold back or when it should go all out. This somewhat uncanny ability was the source of Moore’s nickname Cotton Fingers.
Whatever it was, it was working. By 1943, he had won the Sydney Senior Jockeys’ Premiership, six years before going to work for T.J. Smith. He won the first of his three Sydney Cups in 1946, a feat which would, somewhat inexplicably, elude him until 1966 before he could win a second time and back that with a third victory in 1968, an astounding period of 22 years.
Moore was far from anonymous in the interim. His major triumph of 1948 was the Doncaster Handicap. It was only 18 years until he won that race again in 1966 before he would again take the top spot in 1971.
The first of five Australian Derbies came in 1949, with the others coming in 1957, 1962, 1963 and 1971. Again, Moore was winning major races over a 22 year span.
George Moore went to the U.S. in 1950 at the invitation of American Hall of Fame jockey John Longden, the British/Canadian export who in 1943 captured the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, the three races representing the U.S. Triple Crown whilst riding Count Fleet. Longden would later perform the feat of winning the Kentucky Derby as the trainer of Majestic Prince in 1969. Whilst there, Moore would demonstrate that he could handle a dirt surface when he won the San Diego Handicap in Del Mar, California aboard Manyunk.
When he returned to Australia, he won the VRC Oaks in 1952 and the 1953 edition of the AJC Oaks, the first of three, the subsequent wins coming in 1969 and 1971.
Moore’s name does not show up again in the winners’ circle for major races until 1957, when he took the first of his two Cox Plate wins. He was riding Redcraze for that win. When he took his second Cox Plate in 1968, it was aboard Rajah Sahib, a New Zealand product that with 72 jumps was something of the equine equivalent to Moore from the longevity perspective.
Moore was aboard Saint Crespin when the pair took the Eclipse Stakes in 1959 In Great Britain. He was at this time spending quite a bit of his time riding in Europe, where he would win prestigious races, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France and the Epson Derby in England.
Of course, no account of George Moore is complete without some mention of his partnership with one of the greatest horses to ever set hoof on Australian turf, Tulloch. Moore guided this New Zealand native to 19 of his 36 victories, a factor that doubtless contributed to both rider and horse being amongst the inaugural class of the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.
George Moore continued to win top races until he retired in 1971. He had six major wins that last season, going out on top with consecutive wins from 1970 in the Golden Slipper Stakes and the Newmarket Handicap.
All of this, the years of productivity and major wins, happened despite his being warned off for 2 ½ years for an incident where he had backed a horse in a race in which he was riding another. Moore could have conceivably, based on his average, have won another 140 races, and with no possible speculation necessary as to additional Group 1 wins.
Moore took the acumen that he had acquired through all his 30 plus years of racing and combined that with the influence of the trainers with whom he worked, most notably T.J. Smith, and turned it into a successful career as a trainer. He started in France for a brief spell, returned to Australia for a bit, and then went in 1973 to Hong Kong, where he won 11 trainers’ premierships in the 12 seasons leading up to his final retirement from the sport of racing in 1985.
George Moore will be remembered as one of the most honoured individuals in the annals of Australian thoroughbred racing. The George Moore Medal is presented annually to the top jockey in Sydney, a race is held in his memory at Doomben, and many other such honours as is befitting of a contributor of his stature.
He died in 2008 after having time to enjoy most of his accolades, including seeing his sons follow in his footsteps.