Roy Higgins was a legend of Australian racing. That’s not for debate.Â But the former jockey was an even better man. That was the theme of Higgins’ funeral, which was today held at Flemington.
Australian racing royalty was on hand to remember Roy Henry Higgins, who last Sunday lost a battle with illness at the Cabrini Hospital. He was 75.
“In the end, Roy put more into racing than he ever took out,” Legendary writer Les Carlyon said. “Right to the end, part of him was still the battling kid from the bush who thought he owed racing for all the fame it had brought him.
“The truth, I’d suggest, was the other way around; racing owed him.
“But Roy wasn’t just a great jockey and fine ambassador for racing, that’s only half the story. He was a great human being and that might be the biggest story because it’s harder to be a great human being.”
Damien Oliver, who this season joined Higgins in the select club of Australian jockeys to have ridden 100 Group 1 winners, remembered a jockey whose record was daunting but his disposition anything but.
“Roy was incredibly generous with his advice and his support and that’s something that I’ll never forget,” Oliver said.
“At the time, I didn’t know why Roy was so good to me but it wasn’t long after that I realised that was the same manner he used to everyone. He always had time and was always willing to go out of his way to have a chat and give people plenty of advice.
“Roy had been there and done everything possible as a jockey and I think he knew that I was determined as he had been to achieve his success and that’s what brought us close.
“It’s a very sad time but also a career and a life we should be celebrating because on behalf of all Australian jockeys, Roy’s been an inspiration, an icon and a legend. His legacy will live on forever.”
Higgins and Oliver also in the club that have ridden the Big 4 in Australian racing — the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Golden Slipper.
Higgins, who was born in Koondrook in 1938 and started his race riding career at Deniliquin in 1953, did not take long to gravitate towards Melbourne where in 1978 he equalled Billy Duncan’s record of 11 Melbourne Jockeys’ Premierships.
In 2001 he was one of the five jockey inducted among the inaugural intake into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.
But before that, he was a devoted family man, a father to Martine and Nicole. The latter recounted stories of a treasured childhood.
She remembered the day Higgins accompanied them to Pony Club, for a story arranged by The Sun newspaper regarding what Higgins did away from the racetrack, only for her to appear on the front page under the headline “Higgins Takes A Fall” after falling off.
Plus the time the girls accompanied their father to trackwork and engaged in some unscheduled trackwork aboard star stayer Ming Dynasty.
Or the role she played in the famous call of the two-horse Queen Elizabeth Stakes in 1970. The race was just a week after Nicole was born and Bert Bryant incorporated into his details of a bet Higgins and Pat Hyland on what would be the sex of the baby, which Hyland won.
But it wasn’t only family that Roy touched.
Legendary broadcaster Bruce McAvaney recalled the first time he met Higgins, at a sportsman’s night in Adelaide, where Higgins and Bill Collins were the guests of honour, but how special he was made to feel.
“My lasting memory of Roy that night is his accessibility, his ability to make you feel a little bit special,” McAvaney said.
“Roy’s greatest gift and his legacy is that he’ll be remembered more as the man than the legend. This was one champion we truly loved.”
The service was conducted in the Flemington mounting yard, where Higgins returned victorious after the 1965 and 1967 Melbourne Cups, aboard Light Fingers and Red Handed respectively, before the hearse took him on one final lap of the Flemington track.
Roy Higgins: 5 June 1938 — 8 March 2014