MORE than 1000 people today celebrated Roy Higgins’ career, appropriately at Flemington, a venue where he left so many vivid, poignant, lasting memories, reports Racing Network. Higgins, who died last Saturday night aged 75, was farewelled by past peers Jimmy Johnson, Pat Hyland, Geoff Lane, Gary Willetts, Brent Thomson, Nifty Wilson and Midge Cooper as well as current day jockeys Damien Oliver, Darren Gauci, Craig Williams, Brian Werner and John Keating.

Hall Of Fame trainer David Hayes, Ross McDonald, John Sadler, Leon Corstens, Mike Moroney, Tony Noonan, Allan Williams, Rick Hore-Lacy, Brent Stanley, Russell Cameron, Arthur Clarke, Mark and James Riley and Racing Victoria chairman of stewards Terry Bailey and his predecessor Des Gleeson were among the mourners. Broadcasters Greg Miles and John Russell along with former rails bookmaker Mark Read, rank and file punters joined as one to salute a man who Oliver described in his eulogy as an icon and legend of Australian sport.

Premier Dr Dennis Napthine, RV CEO Bernard Saundry and Board member Barbara Saunders and Greg Nicholls were among those who gathered in the mounting yard and grandstand to pay their respects to the man known as ‘The Professor’.

Jockeys past and present along with trainers formed a guard of honour as former Melbourne Cup winners Brew and Rogan Josh, with handlers wearing the colours of Light Fingers and Red Handed, the two Melbourne Cup winners Higgins rode, and Subzero, led the hearse on a final lap of Flemington. Higgins was applauded as Frank Sinatra’s signature song “My Way” provided a moving back drop to the one of the finest jockeys ever.

Bruce McAvaney, OAM, delivered one of the five eulogies where he recounted how he first ‘Higgs’ about 35-years ago when he was master of ceremonies at a sportsman’s night that also featured Bill Collins.

“It was Nirvana with Bill Collins and ‘Higgs’, the biggest star in Australian racing,” McAvaney recalled. “I could not get over his accessibility, his ability to make me feel a little bit special.”

McAvaney said over time he realised that was a foundation of Higgins’ character – the ability to welcome with open arms anyone, enjoy their company over “a glass of red and shoot the breeze”.

He said Higgins treated everyone as an equal and while his jaw-dropping statistics, he had one trait that was not found in Miller’s Guide.


“His honesty and endeavour to win was never questioned in his entire career,” McAvaney said.

McAvaney noted that given Higgins had been “front and square” of all the big stories for decades it would be fitting if a statue of the inaugural Hall Of Fame jockey be located at Flemington alongside Phar Lap, Bart Cummings and Makybe Diva. He said Higgins completed the “Flemington famous four”.

Willetts described Higgins as a caring, helpful and generous individual who was always thought of others. He recalled how Higgins provided an insight of the nuances of Randwick and Moonee Valley when he first arrived from New Zealand had opened so many doors for him with introductions to owners and trainers.

“I’m honoured to call him a friend. He was a champion jockey, but also a champion person,” Willetts said.

Oliver recalled how Higgins “kicked up” for him to ride one of his syndicated horses for Cummings when he first arrived from Perth as a 16-year-old apprentice.

He noted that “it wasn’t one of my better rides and he (Higgins) let me know, but he gave me a second chance. He let me know that only excellence was accepted. Oliver described Higgins as humble, kind, thoughtful and genuine, the best qualities to be found in a person.

“Roy had them in bucket loads,” Oliver said. “He was an inspiration, an icon and a legend. He will live on with us forever.”

Les Carlyon, the acclaimed author, editor, journalist and passionate horse enthusiast, said Higgins had the rarest of qualities in that he was “universally loved”. “Everyone liked Roy, he was so easy to like. He didn’t hold a grudge, he was never sour, he was so genuine,” Carlyon said. “Roy was just a great jockey and fine ambassador, he was a great human being and that might be the biggest story as it is hard to be a great human being.” Carlyon noted how appropriate that Higgins was farewelled at Flemington where “he left us with so many memories”.

He said Higgins had made his own world and confounded the stereotypes and had become a trail blazer with his articulate, media savvy in an era where jockeys mostly mumbled and rarely spoke publicly.

Carlyon said statistics don’t always explain a person and one of Higgins’ greatest attributes was Higgins’ brain was seemingly ticking much faster than his peers.

“He saw trouble coming before it came,” he said.

Carlyon said as Higgins made one final lap of Flemington he was sure to angle off the fence so as he would not have tired horses coming back on top of him.

 “They didn’t call him the Professor for nothing,” Higgins said.