Aaron Treve Woodcock, better known to most as 'Tommy' Woodcock, was born at Uralgurra, near Kempsey, New South Wales, in 1905. His father was a coach driver with the firm Cobb & Co, which gave young Tommy first-hand experience with horses from an early age and he developed a natural affinity and appreciation of them. At twelve, he was apprenticed as a jockey under the trainer Barney Quinn, who was based at Randwick Racecourse, in Sydney.
In 1922, at the age of sixteen, he had his first start in a professional race and rode a number of winners at Sydney and country New South Wales race meets over the following few years. Although he was lean enough, it was clear by his late teens that he was growing too tall to continue as a jockey. Instead, he applied his placid nature and natural affinity with horses to the business of caring for them. He would spend the rest of his life rising at four in the morning, mucking out stables, grooming, feeding and later training some of the most pampered animals on the planet, who in turn responded to his gentle and caring manner. It was not that he got on badly with people, but he loved horses and they loved him.
Trainer Harry Telford recognised Tom's particular affinity with Phar Lap and asked him to work as strapper to the horse full-time. Woodcock disagreed with Telford's tough training regime, preferring a gentler approach. He and Phar Lap soon formed such a close relationship that Phar Lap would take food from no one else. 'Bobby', as Tom nicknamed Phar Lap, always came first. In the lead up to big races Woodcock slept outside Phar Lap's stable and would not let him out of his sight. Life must have been difficult for Mrs Woodcock: even when they married, Tom could take no more than four days off. Once, under pressure from his wife, he went to the opera; before long his dawn rising caught up with him and he was drowsy. By nine o'clock Tom had fallen asleep in his seat.
When other commitments prevented Telford from accompanying Phar Lap on the fateful trip to America in 1931, Woodcock was given the honour of accompanying the owner David Davis as Phar Lap's trainer. Woodcock was heart-broken when the horse died suddenly, a fortnight after winning the Agua Caliente Handicap. Returning to Australia, Woodcock gained his Trainer's Licence and spent the rest of his life until the age of 78 training and working with horses. One of his more notable successes was Reckless, who ran second in the 1977 Melbourne Cup.
In 1979 Woodcock donated several of his personal mementoes of Phar Lap to Museum Victoria. He died at Yarrawonga in 1985.
Phar Lap, Champion Race Horse (1926-1932)
Harry Telford, Race Horse Owner & Trainer (1877-1960)
David Davis, Entrepreneur & Race Horse Owner
Jim Pike, Jockey (1892-1969)
Phar Lap in America, 1932
Phar Lap Collection
Reason, Michael, 2005, Phar Lap: A True Legend, Museum Victoria, Melbourne (revised edition 2009).
Wositzky, J., 1986, Tommy Woodcock 1905-1985, Greenhouse Publications Pty Ltd, Richmond, Victoria.
Woodcock, Tommy, 'Phar Lap Memories', a series of articles published in 25 parts in The Mercury (Hobart), 19 Sep 1936 - 16 Dec 1936.