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Roy Higgins is one of Australia’s greatest living jockeys. By the time of his retirement in 1983 he had ridden 2,300 winners in the 1960s and 1970s, including two Melbourne Cups. Higgins remains closely involved in the racing industry and authored the 1982 book “The Jockey Who Laughed”, a humorous collection of racing stories.
Higgins was born in the Victorian town of Koondrook in 1938. He began his racing career in Deniliquin, NSW in 1953 on the country racing circuit. He probably owes his nickname “The Professor” to local horse trainer Jim Watters, a comment on his incredible ability in the saddle. Higgins then moved to Melbourne and became Victoria’s most successful jockey of the day winning eleven Melbourne Jockey Premierships, the first in the 1964/5 season.
From the start of his career, Higgins struggled with his weight. He used tricks such as hot baths and saunas to reduce his weight to 51 kilos on race day. As the races at the time only took place on Saturdays, he would go out on Sundays to indulge in the traditional Sunday roast and put on five or six kilos which he then had to remove before the races the following Saturday. Despite his weight issues, Higgins was a top jockey for 30 years. When asked what he would do in retirement, he said, “I would love to be a little fat man!”
Higgins successfully rode over 2,300 winners, including two Melbourne Cups on New Zealand horses trained by Bart Cummings: Light Fingers in 1965 and Red Handed in 1967. Other well-known horses associated with Higgins included the miler Gunsynd, Leilani (partly owned by Andrew Paon) and Storm Queen. In fact, Higgins could have won three Melbourne Cups, he was the jockey of another horse trained by Cummings, Big Philou, the best betting choice, for the 1969 Melbourne Cup, which was controversially withdrawn just minutes before the start , victim of a doping scandal.
Over his 30-year career, Higgins has won every major race in Australia, often multiple times. Notable Victorian wins were: WS Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, four VRC Derbies, four Blue Diamonds Stakes and five VRC Oakes. Interstate Higgins won the 1962 and 1969 Sydney Cups, two Golden Slipper Stakes (1966, 1973) and the AJC Oaks six times. Higgins’ last tour was at Flemington in October 1983.
In 1972 Queen Elizabeth awarded Roy Higgins an MBE for his services to the horse racing industry. Since retiring as a jockey, Higgins has worked extensively as a racing commentator on television and radio, particularly on Melbourne’s Sport 927 station. He is also a lecturer in the jockey training program at the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE.
Roy Higgins has certainly earned his place in Australian motor racing history. You wonder, though, if he would have even started today as a 14-year-old dropout who has struggled with his racing weight his entire career. The longevity and success of his career says as much about his determination as a man as it does about his skills as a jockey.
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