Roy Higgins is being remembered as a masterful jockey, but more importantly a generous man who never tired of the sport he loved.
Higgins’ death on Saturday at the age of 75 was unexpected although he had suffered health problems since his retirement from the saddle three decades ago.
Trainer Pat Hyland, his former on-track rival and close friend, remembered him as a fierce competitor.
“He was a great friend. We saw a lot of one another but we were fierce rivals on raceday,” Hyland told Melbourne radio RSN.
“But he was a great jockey and a great bloke.
“I could tell stories about Roy forever and a day because we spent so much time together.
“He was a wonderful man for charity. And the people that he helped nobody would know about.
“I will miss him.”
Gerald Ryan, another who rode against Higgins before becoming a successful trainer, said Higgins had no peer.
“He was the best I’ve seen,” he said.
“He was a jockey, he was a fair dinkum jockey. He was a horseman first and then a jockey.
“I used to sit next to him in the jockeys’ room at Flemington and he was the best rider to follow in a race.”
Ryan said when he was young he had pictures on his wall of Light Fingers who gave Higgins his first of two Melbourne Cup wins and began the phenomenal run of trainer Bart Cummings who described him as “a very kind person and a very good ambassador for racing”.
Both Higgins and Cummings were among the inaugural inductees to the Australian Racing Hall Of Fame.
Higgins’ death came just a day before this year’s ceremony in Canberra and 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.”
Racing Victoria chief executive Bernard Saundry said Higgins’ achievements on the track were only bettered by his strength of character and generosity.
“Roy was an icon of Australian racing but more importantly was a true gentleman who always went out of his way to help others,” Saundry said.
“On the track his record speaks for itself … but more important was the role Roy Higgins played in so many people’s lives throughout the racing industry.
“He always had time for people who wanted to learn about racing and he was a great mentor to generations of young jockeys.”
Among those young jockeys was Damien Oliver, one of just four jockeys to have won 100 or more Group One races, the others being Higgins, George Moore and Jim Cassidy.
“When I was young I rode a horse for one of his syndicates and I got beaten,” Oliver said.
“He took me aside and told me what I had done wrong and put me on again.
“That’s the sort of person he was.”
Victorian premier Dr Denis Napthine, who is also the Racing minister, said Higgins was a true champion.
“He was an outstanding jockey, he just knew how to pace a horse, he knew how to balance a horse … but also a great promoter of racing,” he said.
“We’ve lost a true champion of the turf.”
Racing Victoria will look at a permanent tribute to Higgins, possibly in the form of a medal for the winner of the Melbourne premiership, something Higgins accomplished 11 times.