William James Broughton was born in Foxton on 6 January 1913, the son of Charles Rudolph Broughton, a flax-mill worker, and his wife, Rosie May Edith Lee. Through his paternal great-grandmother, Hereora Taueki, he had Muaupoko ancestry. The family moved to Tokomaru, another flax industry centre, where he and his elder brother Charlie went to primary school.
Bill Broughton grew up in a household with links to horse-racing. Like his brother (and parents) he was of small stature and at home with horses. His uncle ‘Darkie’ Broughton was a jockey and later a trotting driver, and during school holidays Bill enjoyed visiting the racing stables of leading Awapuni trainer George New, to whom Charlie became apprenticed. Eventually Bill was offered an apprenticeship; he was formally registered in the 1928–29 season, when he was 15. In October 1928, at his sixth race-day ride, he rode his first winner, Iago.
Success was not easy in those days, with champion jockeys such as Hector Gray, Tommy Green, Keith Voitre, the Ellis brothers and Roy Reed all currently riding. Reed became his mentor, discussing horses and tactics with him and pointing out his mistakes. Broughton managed another five wins in his first year. An early highlight of his career was winning the New Zealand Cup in 1931 aboard Spearful while still an apprentice. In 1934 he established himself among the top jockeys, finishing second to his good friend Jim Ellis.
On 23 July 1932, at Palmerston North, Bill Broughton married Hazel May Lund, with whom he had a son. The marriage was formally dissolved on 11 February 1949 and 10 days later, at Palmerston North, he married Georgina Nantlle (Nan) Rogers (née Darby), and adopted her daughter.
In 1952 Bill Broughton again won the New Zealand Cup, this time on Conclusion. In between, he had won virtually every major race on the calendar – many of them several times – with the exception of the Auckland Cup. During the 1940s he had dominated the jockeys’ ranks in New Zealand, with more than twice as many winners as the next-best rider. His regular mounts included some of the leading horses of the era, although none were true champions. Probably the best was Soneri, notable for her weight-carrying achievements. In 1947 Broughton rode her to a second victory in the Winter Cup at Riccarton under the enormous impost of 11 stone 4 pounds.
Broughton was noted for his patient riding style and ability to time his home run to perfection. He could often get the best out of a horse without using a whip. A memorable example of this was in the 1957 Wellington Cup. Top Australian horseman Neville Sellwood, riding Cardigan vigorously with the whip, and Broughton, using his ‘hands and heels’ technique on Sombrero, fought an exciting battle down the home straight, with Broughton snatching a popular victory right on the finishing line.
Broughton’s riding methods reflected his personality. He was disciplined and determined, striving for perfection in everything he did. Over his long career he broke many bones in the inevitable falls jockeys suffer. However, in March 1958 after a relatively minor foot injury sustained in a fall from Calcutta Sweep at Trentham, he retired, aged 45, not wanting to risk permanent disability or to ride over-cautiously. By this time his official winning tally was 1,446 in New Zealand, plus 11 in Australia. In three decades he had headed the jockeys’ list 11 times.
He took no further active part in racing. For many years he was president of the New Zealand Jockeys’ Association and, typically, carried out his duties thoroughly and efficiently. Through his determination and high standing he achieved consistent improvements in conditions and pay for jockeys.
Having invested his considerable earnings wisely, he was now free to cultivate his other sporting interests. He got down to a two handicap at golf, played lawn bowls at championship level and became a noted coach, and excelled at clay-bird shooting. He died suddenly on 23 September 1990 at Palmerston North, survived by Nan and her daughter. In 1996 Bill Broughton was elected to the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.