Champion New Zealand jockey Jim Cassidy to quit after Cup carnival

Ring-a-ding-ding, that’s it for The King. Champion jockey Jim Cassidy has revealed he will retire at the end of the Melbourne Cup carnival, bringing to a close one of racing’s most colourful and controversial careers.

“I want to go out on my terms – I don’t want to be pushed out,” New Zealand-born Cassidy told Fairfax Media.

“I don’t want people to say: ‘He’s too old, he should’ve given it away six months ago’. Someone said to me at Moonee Valley last Saturday ‘Don’t you retire’! It’s alright for them to say that, but 30 years in a tough game is a long time. But it’s time to say goodbye. I feel teary thinking about it, but I’m happy. I’ve made the decision. It will be in writing. There will be no comebacks.”

Cassidy’s announcement ends months of speculation about his future. He turns 53 in January but showed with his stunning victory on Grand Marshal in the Sydney Cup and Dissident in the All Aged Stakes last April, and more recently on John Singleton’s VRC Oaks prospect Dawnie Perfect, that the magic remains in the man universally known as “The Pumper”.

“But a lack of opportunities, the lack of quality rides has made the decision for me,” Cassidy admits. “The younger generation is coming through, and I am honoured and privileged that I can still compete at the top level. But consistently quality rides are obviously drying up. I don’t want to be punching slow horses around. I don’t feel like I’m being pushed out. I’m not disillusioned. I’m happy.”

Spending more time with his wife, Vicki, and daughters, Piper and Sarsha, is fundamental to his decision. So, too, the pain in his body and his heart.

“I’ve had a lot of pain in my body the last couple of years,” he says. “I’ve been saying I haven’t, but the body’s taken a lot of wear and tear. Once I stop doing the hard yards, a lot of the pain will go. You’re not doing the cold and early mornings, smashing feet and legs and heads on barriers. Just all those things. It will be nice to have a bit more fun. A normal life. And there have been other things that have put racing in perspective.”

Cassidy has endured a tough year on a personal level with his father Arthur being diagnosed with cancer, his sister-in-law Marian suddenly passing away during the Sydney carnival and the death of good friend and prominent owner Tony Mittiga.

“I want to spend as much time as possible with dad, too,” he says. “That’s gutted me a bit. Without him, I wouldn’t be here.”

Cassidy’s father – better known as “Blue” – told him as a child that no dream was too big. As his son sat on the arm of the lounge chair at home, using a tree branch as an imaginary whip to encourage home an imaginary horse, that boyhood dream had been to win a Melbourne Cup.
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It became reality on a $1000 farm horse called Kiwi in 1983, opening the gate for his first season in Sydney the following year, and then again on Might And Power in 1997 in his fabled return after the infamous jockey tapes scandal that led to his suspension for three years, later reduced to 20 months.

“The door opened up when I won the Cup on Kiwi, and I think it’ll be fitting to finish after this carnival,” he says. “I’ve got no regrets from when I started, to the jockey tapes, to coming back, to the last three days of my riding life that are about to happen. I’ve had great support, I’ve been given chances, made the most of opportunities. I’ve been very privileged and very lucky.”

Cassidy was telling this on a bleak Tuesday morning in the foyer of the Rydges Hotel near Rosehill racecourse, where he has just ridden two barrier trials. The following day, he rode Feast For Eyes to victory in a race at Canterbury. Almost nobody on the track knew it would be his last winner in Sydney.

Cassidy’s final assault on Melbourne starts on Derby day. It was here, at Flemington, two years ago where he claimed his 100th Group I winner on Zoustar.

He has received a last-minute call-up to ride outsider Scadden’s Run in the Victoria Derby, a race he won in 1985 on millionaire owner Robert Sangster’s Handy Proverb, and then two years later on the Bart Cummings-trained Omnicorp.

Cassidy will also continue Dawnie Perfect’s charge towards next Thursday’s VRC Oaks when he pilots the filly in the Wakeful Stakes earlier on Saturday.

In the absence of a ride on Stakes day on the last day of the carnival, his ride on Dawnie Perfect in the Oaks looms as Cassidy’s last ride. He’s won the race five times.

Dawnie Perfect is owned by colourful millionaire adman Singleton, with whom Cassidy has had a long association. “Singo’s a headline person so he needs a headline horse,” laughs Cassidy. “He makes the paper as much as me, if not more. He’s always been solid with me. He abuses you when you lose and when you win. I take it all with a grain of salt. He’s fun to be around.”

Then there’s Pornichet, who is trained by Gai Waterhouse, in the Mackinnon Stakes. “It would be fitting to have a winner for Gai, too, because I haven’t had a ride for her for a while,” Cassidy says. “Not a decent one. I’ve had my ups and downs with Gai. You have to be riding work and riding winners for her. If you’re not getting opportunities, you aren’t getting winners. I mean, quality rides. Five of my last 20 winners are flat-out being under 4-1. The rest have all been out in the market. That tells me that I’m not getting quality rides. There’s a few horses in Sydney I hoped I would get on in Melbourne, but I haven’t. It doesn’t make it hard, but other blokes are riding more winners consistently because of opportunities. I just feel that there’s a bit of support there but it’s not how it used to be.”

And that brings us to Grand Marshal, his Melbourne Cup horse who has flown under the radar this preparation but a galloper Cassidy has entrusted to deliver an epic conclusion to his career.

When Cassidy was not booked for a solitary ride on the first day of The Championships in Sydney, it cut him. Then he received the late call-up from trainer Chris Waller for the Sydney Cup the following Saturday and the veteran hoop delivered, getting Grand Marshal across the line, half a head in front of Waller stablemate Who Shot Thebarman.

“Where’s the Magic Man now?” asked Cassidy when he returned to the winner’s enclosure, referring to Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira, considered the best in the world and favoured by Waller last autumn.

They are words that still echo as Cassidy prepares to squeeze the lemon one last time.

“He’s a two-miler, and you need a good one of those to win at Flemington,” he says of Grand Marshal. “He’s far from being the best horse in the race, but he’s tough. He’s had a good prep, he’s fit, he’s hard, he’s ready, and if I give him the right ride he’ll run the race of his life, I believe.”

With this being his last, expect Cassidy to be the first in the jockeys’ room for the last three days of his career. “That’s what I will miss the most – the rush, on the big days,” he reflects. “The rush starts when you know you’ve got a good chance of winning that race.

“There’s a difference between having a good chance and believing you’re on the horse that can do it. Then going out and doing it …

“I pride myself on believing I can do it, that I can conquer it. I enjoy seeing the rush on the faces of other jockeys now … I still live those moments. I’ll live them when I walk back on to Flemington … It was an honour to be there to start off, and it will be magnificent to be there when I finish.”


Story courtesy Andrew Webster Sydney Morning Herald

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