Death of Australian great Roy Higgins

Australian racing is in mourning after the death of legendary jockey Roy Higgins, who died in Melbourne on Saturday after a short illness. He was 75.

A public funeral service will be held at Flemington on Thursday to remember Higgins, a record-equalling 11-time winner of the Melbourne jockeys’ premiership and one of the few to win Australia’s ‘grand slam’ of Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Golden Slipper.

Despite a constant battle with his weight, the jockey known as ‘The Professor’ for his superior skills rode 2,312 winners, including 108 Group 1s, and had a long association with Bart Cummings.

An original inductee into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2001 four years after he joined the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame, Higgins rode Cummings’ first Melbourne Cup winner Light Fingers in 1965. He also rode theCummings-trained Red Handed to win the Cup two years later.

A minute’s silence was held at Monday’s Bank Holiday meeting at Moonee Valley, where the flag was at half-mast for the immensely popular Higgins, who rode a string of champions including Gunsynd, Leilani, Storm Queen and Big Philou.

A country boy at heart, Higgins was once of the greatest jockeys of his era. According to AAP Racing, Higgins once said if it wasn’t for him Bart Cummings would only have 10 Melbourne Cups. The 12-time Cup winning trainer’s reply was that without him, Higgins would have none.

Born at Koondrook in northern Victoria on June 5, 1938, Higgins began his racing career in Deniliquin in 1953. He won his first metropolitan jockeys’ premiership in 1964-65 in Melbourne, having like many Aussies ridden in France for a spell in 1963-64.

The rivalry between Higgins and Cummings and their long-term adversaries George Moore and trainer Tommy Smith became one of the great turf battles of the 1960s.

Unsurprisingly, all four were among the original members of the Australian Racing Hall of Fame when it was inaugurated in 2001 – an honour that meant more to Higgins than his MBE.

“The icing on the cake of my career in racing came when I was inducted as an inaugural member,” he once said. “Nothing in racing could satisfy me more than that. To be acknowledged in this way meant to me that I had achieved it all.”

As well as two his Melbourne Cups, Higgins won a Caulfield Cup (Big Philou 1969), Cox Plate (Gunsynd 1972), four Victoria Derbys, five VRC Oaks and four Blue Diamond Stakes.

He also rode the winners of many major interstate races including two Sydney Cups (Grand Print 1962, Lowland 1969), two Golden Slippers (Storm Queen 1966, Tontonan in 1973) and the AJC Oaks six times. The only major races on the national calendar he didn’t win were the AJC Derby and the Stradbroke Handicap.

Higgins enjoyed a formidable association with long-time ally Bart Cummings following Light Fingers’ Melbourne Cup success in 1965.

“I loved Light Fingers,” he was to recall. “She started me with Bart Cummings, for whom I was No 1 rider for 16 years. Almost 80 per cent of my Group wins were for Bart. What would have I achieved without him?

“We were together for two Melbourne Cups, for three of my four Victoria Derbys, five of my six Oaks wins, a Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide Cup and two Golden Slippers.

“I was lucky enough to ride for the best – Bart, TJ Smith, Angus Armanasco, Geoff Murphy and Colin Hayes – and rode internationally in France for the best trainers.”

Beset by asthma problems, Higgins had his final ride in October 1983, after which he declared his ambition was to be a “little fat man”. He continued to work in the racing industry via media work on radio and TV, and latterly in the realm of racehorse syndication.

Before his death on Saturday, Higgins had been in hospital for a few weeks, suffering from a variety of issues including the diabetes that had plagued him in recent years.

Australian Racing Board chairman John Messara was among those to pay tribute to Higgins.

“Roy had a natural love and kindness for horses and they responded accordingly in his hands,” Messara said.

“I knew Roy personally and found him to be extraordinarily knowledgeable about horses and the industry.

“Roy Higgins was an outstanding man whose contribution to Australian racing is of historical proportions.”

Source: Racing Post, 10 March 2014

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