Between mind and body, age is not just a number when you are a professional jockey. Cape veteran Karl Neisius somehow keeps plugging away well into his fifties and Piere Strydom says he doubts he will go past 50. It will thus be interesting to watch the exploits of 51 year old Australian Hall Of Famer Jim Cassidy who has been retained by the Ricky Maingard stable for the next two weekends in Mauritius.
The New Zealand born Cassidy, known as ‘The Pumper’, has his first ride for Maingard on Saturday and brings impressive credentials to the table following a long career in the saddle.
In a touch that South African horseracing could learn plenty from, Maingard held a press conference at his stables on Thursday to announce Cassidy’s arrival.
“The idea was to invite the press to meet Jim Cassidy. He will ride at his first meeting on Saturday and we are happy and proud to have been able to convince Jimmy to come here to ride for us for two meetings. I thank him very heartily for accepting the invitation. Jim is a hall of fame jockey, he is 51 years old but he looks like a 36-year old. He has ridden for a long time and been Champion jockey. He has won over 100 G.1 races, which is a fantastic achievement. I think that there are only two riders in Australia to have achieved that, the other one being Damien Oliver. Jim has had mishaps in his racing career of course, I guess he has made some mistakes, but he has always been able to come back and ride at the top level. And he is still riding and still being regarded as one of the best jockeys in Australia. He has ridden the best horses Australia has seen, he has won the best races there are in Australia and I think that it’s a privilege for all of us to welcome him. My only hope is that our horses are not too tired on Saturday, so that we can see the master jockey in action here. I wish him luck, I hope he enjoys our country and our hospitality.”
Cassidy rode in his first race in 1978 and it took him 82 rides to boot home his first winner.
He first arrived in Sydney in 1984 when Tommy Smith was the dominant training force.
Cassidy teamed up with Brian Mayfield-Smith to end Smith’s world record 33-year reign as Sydney’s premier trainer in 1986.
Cassidy’s celebrated career includes 102 Group 1 wins, third behind George Moore (119) and Roy Higgins (108).
He is a member of the elite Grand Slam club, having ridden the winners of two Melbourne Cups, two Caulfield Cups, a Cox Plate and Golden Slipper, and is destined to be remembered as one of the great jockeys.
He has had his injuries both on and off the track. In 2009 he missed a Melbourne Cup ride when he slipped and lost the top of two of his fingers on his right hand courtesy of his hedge trimmer!
He admitted recently that there have been occasions in the last year or so when he thought retirement was his only option.
Life’s pressures were mounting. Cassidy’s father Arthur is battling illness, his brother Colin nearly died in a truck accident, and age was catching up with the champion jockey.
While dealing with these issues, Cassidy set himself a personal goal to ride his 100th Group 1 winner, which he felt would cap his remarkable riding career.
Cassidy duly achieved that feat with his win on Zoustar in the Coolmore Stud Stakes last spring, then he rode another two major races winners in Sydney during the autumn on Dissident (Randwick Guineas) and Steps In Time (Coolmore Classic).
The irrepressible rider’s form was as good as ever, age was certainly no barrier, and he began to question those retirement plans.
“My Dad is 77 and has cancer and I want to spend more time with him but he is fighting hard and that is giving me a lift,” Cassidy said.
“He wants me to keep going, he gets a kick out of watching me ride. My brother is doing OK now and he also wants me out there.
“When these things happen, it does give you a different perspective — life is a good leveller. This year, racing has lost Nathan Berry and Guy Walter, there have been so many sad times.
“But I’m so lucky to have the support of family and friends. My wife Vicki is my ‘backbone’, there’s my three girls and, as the season went on, I started to weigh it all up and I thought why do I want to retire?
“I still have the hunger, I’m fit and healthy and I love riding, so as long as I feel like this, I’ll keep going. Why give up when I feel I’m riding as well as ever?”
“You can be on top one day and at the bottom the next and I’ve seen that many times. It’s happened to me but I always bounce back.”