Champion jockey Jim Cassidy ended his 36-year riding career in a style that only he could at Flemington on Thursday.
The master Kiwi horseman who won 104 Group I races, one of only four riders to achieve the feat in Australia, was beaten aboard Distant Rock but his navigation on the Lee and Anthony Freedman-trained galloper unintentionally aided Zebrinz to win the Crown Resorts Plate (1600m).
On the point of the home turn, Cassidy angled his mount towards the outside section of the straight, and try as Zebrinz’s jockey James McDonald did not to go with Cassidy, he was outside his rivals’ heels and left with no option to come down the outside fence.
The better ground out wide helped Zebrinz to peg back Lord Athenaeum on the post to win by a short half head.
“I had an influence on the result,” Cassidy said. “Funnily enough I was talking to Macca before the last and I said to him you’ve got be prepared to back your own ability and your own judgement.”
An emotional Cassidy returned to the jockeys’ room for the last time after the race and described the moment as “overwhelming”.
“It’s a sad day. I’ve got a tear in my eye,” he said. “It will be a little bit hard for the next week or two not walking in here (jockeys’ room) and seeing all the boys.
“It’s been a wonderful journey and I can’t stress how good it’s been.
“I’ve had a great time. If all the jockeys could experience, probably not all that I’ve been through, but half of it, they’d have a hell of a life.”
Cassidy retires one of only a handful of riders to have won Australian racing’s grand slam with two Melbourne Cup wins aboard Kiwi (1983) and Might And Power (1997).
Might And Power also gave him his sole Cox Plate win in 1998 and one of two Caulfield Cup victories in 1997. He also won the race on Diatribe in 2000 and a Golden Slipper in 2001 aboard Ha Ha.
“I’ve had a great ride. I’ve ridden for all the great trainers, I’ve ridden for the new up and coming stars,” he said. “It’s over, it’s finished.
“I feel good about my decision. I’m happy and I’ve finished in one piece.
“I’ve stood the test of time, I’ve hung in there and I’ve finished on a good note.”
Cassidy’s last shot at a Group I win was taken from him earlier in the day when Dawnie Perfect was scratched on Thursday morning before the Crown Oaks but Cassidy refused to be disappointed.
“It would have been nice to get another one, my last one, for Singo (John Singleton) and Clarry (Conners) but that’s racing. It wasn’t meant to be,” he said.
“My last Melbourne winner was aboard the filly for the boys so that’s a memory I’ll never lose.”
Cassidy also said last Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup result is something he’ll never forget.
“I came here in 1983 for the first time and won the Melbourne Cup on Kiwi and on Tuesday I had my last ride in a Melbourne Cup. It is a great race and has become the race that stops the world,” he said.
“I saw one of the greatest things happen in my career on Tuesday, seeing Michelle Payne win the Cup.
“I was lucky enough to be just outside her for three quarters of the race and when I got past the post, to see Michelle had won it, it was probably one of the most touching moments in my life to see a lady rider come out and win one of our greatest races in the world.
“To all my fellow riders I’d like to thank you all throughout Australia and the ones that are here at Flemington today for the competition, the challenges and the main thing that we all come back in one piece after every race and go home to our families at night.
“To the racing public that have supported me throughout my career in Australia and in New Zealand, I wish to thank you all very much.
“I wish everybody well. Keep safe, God bless and thank you very much for having me.”