James Scobie (1860–1940), jockey and horse-trainer, was born at Ararat, Victoria, the son of Scottish immigrants. By his own admission, Scobie spent most of his school years ‘playing the wag’ and was ten years old when he first began working as a strapper and jockey. ‘A fearless and dashing horseman’ according to one account, he rode many races in regional Victoria and South Australia, winning his first race at age fifteen and notching up his first metropolitan win at Flemington in March 1880, a few months before his twentieth birthday. From 1882 to 1893 he trained and rode the winners of major horse jumping races, including the prestigious four-mile Grand National Steeplechase which he won in 1887 on his horse Blue Mountain – a stallion Scobie considered ‘vile tempered’ but also ‘the best thing I ever had through my hands’. In the 1890s, Scobie consolidated his success as a trainer; between 1900 and 1939, his horses took out four Melbourne Cups, eight Victoria Racing Club Derbies, ten Bendigo Cups, twelve Ascot Vale Stakes and five South Australian Jockey Club Derbies. Scobie married Joan Shaw Patterson in 1888, and their two sons, Norman and Austin, both became horse trainers. Scobie was known for his exacting and attentive attitude to horse training and he continued training almost until his death. His ghost-written autobiography, My Life on the Australian Turf, was published in 1929.
Painter and printmaker Frederick Woodhouse Senior (1820–1909) came to Australia in 1858 to establish himself as an equine portraitist, the colonial taste for sports such as racing and hunting having created significant demand for paintings of champion horses. Woodhouse painted the portraits of every horse to win the Melbourne Cup between 1861 and 1891 and in addition produced paintings of prize-winning sheep, cattle and dogs. Woodhouse’s paintings were often engraved for reproduction in papers such as the Town and Country Journal and Australasian Sketcher. He also worked as a designer of sporting trophies, collaborating with Geelong silversmith Edward Fischer, for example, to produce the first locally-made presentation Melbourne Cup in 1876. A founding member of the Victorian Academy of Arts, Woodhouse’s business diminished as photography grew in popularity and availability. ‘A Melbourne Cup always meant £100 to me’, he was quoted as saying, ‘but photography knocked me out. Now an owner can get a picture of his horse in a sixpenny weekly, or for nothing – wrapped around the meat’.
This painting celebrates Scobie's victory on Blue Mountain in the 1887 Grand National Steeplechase.