IN Our People
Colin Jillings was a training colossus
Revered thoroughbred trainer Colin Jillings has died in Auckland. He was 91.
Tim Barton for LOVERACING.NZ | December 23, 2022
Colin Jillings. Photo credit: Trish Dunell

Revered thoroughbred trainer Colin Jillings has died in Auckland. He was 91.

Jillings, who retired from training in 2005, had a lengthy and hugely successful career in racing, initially as a jockey and then as a trainer.

He never trained on a large scale, which made winning a premiership an unrealistic target, but from the outset displayed a rare ability to successfully target big races.

His ability to set a horse for a feature race and get it to the target in peak form and at the right weight – a key skill during the period when the richest races were mostly handicaps – was almost unmatched.

Underpinning his success was a strong work ethic and keen attention to detail, together with a genuine affection for horses. He believed that “every horse is an individual” and should be fed and worked accordingly.

Jillings was riding trackwork at Ellerslie as a 10-year-old and had his first race ride at 12. A fractured skull, suffered in a trackwork fall, sidelined him for 11 months but he still recorded his first win as a 13-year-old, when a pupil at St Peters College.

He was always going to get too big to remain a jockey for long but was the leading northern apprentice in the 1945-46 season and won the Railway at Ellerslie and finished third in an Auckland Cup before his riding career ended.

He later mentored many capable riders, among them Bob Vance, Mark Sweeney and Sam Spratt.

 Jillings spent the bulk of his training career at Takanini and won more than 1300 races as a trainer in New Zealand. His star performers included Uncle Remus, Stipulate, McGinty, Yeman, Sharivari, Tycoon Lil, Sedecrem and top jumper Brockton.

More than half of those wins came when in partnership with Richard Yuill, who became a training partner in 1987.

Jillings was 25 when he trained the first of his four Auckland Cup winners and was particularly proud of his Derby record at Ellerslie. He won the Great Northern Derby with Lawful and Stipulate, and the NZ Derby, which replaced the Great Northern Derby in 1973, with Uncle Remus, I’m Henry and The Phantom Chance. The five wins were spread over 34 years.

There were also two wins in the Wellington Derby and further classic wins in the NZ Oaks (2), Two Thousand Guineas, One Thousand Guineas, Great Northern Oaks, NZ St Leger, and Wellington Oaks.

The four Auckland Cup wins – with Yeman, Stipulate, Perhaps and Irish Chance – were spread over 43 years, and there were victories in the New Zealand and Wellington Cups.

There were few features at either Ellerslie or Trentham which eluded Jillings. His Ellerslie tally also included the George Adams (Rich Hill) (2), Railway (2), New Zealand Stakes (2), Easter Handicap, Great Northern Guineas (2), Queen Elizabeth (2), and Sires’ Produce Stakes.

His trips to Trentham also produced wins in the Thorndon Mile (2), Telegraph Handicap, Wellington Guineas (3), Wellington Stakes (4) and Desert Gold Stakes (2).

Jillings did not take a lot of horses to Australia but one of the high points of his career came in Melbourne, when he won the 1993 Cox Plate with The Phantom Chance. McGinty (3) and Tycoon Lil were also Group I winners across the Tasman.

Jillings deserved a Cox Plate win. He had been unable to spare the time to accompany Yeman on a spring campaign in Australia in 1958 and the horse won the Cox Plate for Larry Wiggins.

Yeman was still a priceless early flagbearer for Jillings, winning the Auckland and Wellington Cups, while Stipulate, who raced in the 1960s, won the equivalent of 10 Group races, including the Auckland Cup, NZ Cup, Great Northern Derby and Canterbury Gold Cup.

Uncle Remus, a champion three-year-old, was arguably as talented as any horse Jillings trained.  The unfashionably bred colt won 13 of his 15 starts at three and had excuses for his two defeats.

He won black type races from 1200m to 2400m and completed the Two Thousand Guineas-NZ Derby double. He also won the Wellington Derby, Wellington Guineas, Wellington Stakes, Avondale Guineas and Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes and beat the older horses in the Canterbury Gold Cup, Thames Valley Stakes, Clifford Plate and Rotorua Challenge Stakes. No NZ-trained horse since has managed 13 wins in a season.

Sadly, Uncle Remus did not win a race as an older horse. He had a wind operation following his three-year-old campaign but never regained peak form and was retired from racing as a four-year-old.

McGinty, who was part-owned by prominent commentator and raconteur Keith Haub, performed against the best as a two and three-year-old and as an older horse. McGinty won six Group I races and might have been the first New Zealand-trained Golden Slipper winner had he not been injured, when beating the subsequent Slipper winner Marscay in the main lead-up race. McGinty also won the Caulfield Stakes, Rawson Stakes and Canterbury Guineas in Australia and the NZ Stakes (twice) at Ellerslie and the George Adams (Thorndon) at Trentham.

Sharivari, who had begun his career in the United States, won the Railway, the Ellerslie George Adams, and the Telegraph at Trentham in the same campaign, carrying 61kg in the Telegraph.

Colin Jillings