Roy Higgins great man and great jockey

In the saddle Roy Higgins, MBE, a champion jockey, who died on Saturday, was power without pain.

On ground level it was more about personal suffering to achieve a peak in the saddle, but he never lost his roots, a country kid raised in Deniliquin who gained ''The Professor'' title.

Some say it came from his expertise in the saddle or polish outside his chosen profession. My bet is it was being named Roy Henry Higgins after the lead in My Fair Lady.

''Roy had been educated in the shearing sheds around Deniliquin but maintained a learned, polished demeanour,'' John Schreck, a former steward, recalled. ''He was even proficient at French, but as a jockey none were better.''

Schreck, who has seen the greats abroad as well as locally, was most impressed by the fact Higgins was never questioned throughout his career, in many countries, over a dubious ride.

Yes, he did drop his hands on Hyperno in the 1978 Moonee Valley Cup for which he was outed. Higgins described as it ''as a mental blackout'' on ''a villain of the worst kind''.

Later in true Higgins fashion he apologised to the racing world for letting them down so badly.

When 15, 60 years back, Higgins started his career in a boiling hot copper (tub) to drain two pounds (1kg) to make his debut on Cherry Girl, who finished last at Deniliquin. For the next 30 years it got even worse - for wasting not winning.

''Everything evolved around wasting and sweating, saunas and showers, jogging and playing squash in plastic jackets,'' Higgins said. ''I have lost enough sweat to keep the whole world slim.''

But the power remained.

Winner of 11 Melbourne premierships, Higgins' successes included, among his 2312 winning tally, the Golden Slipper, Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup, remarkable considering he was a heavyweight, 53.5kg, at his very lightest in an era of much lesser minimums.

Of great horses, Higgins maintained Light Fingers ''owns the softest spot in my heart'', emphasised by his recollection of their triumph in the 1965 Melbourne Cup. ''It was probably hurting me more than hurting her,'' he stressed regarding the gruelling last 100 metres when both were working in punishing unison. ''She threw her heart and soul at the winning post.''

Higgins fulfilled every criteria of champion so often lavishly placed on the unworthy. But it applies to him not only as a jockey but as a man.

The story Roy Higgins great man and great jockey first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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