Those who have little familiarity with the subject of thoroughbred racing might be unimpressed by the longevity that has been displayed by top jockey Jim Cassidy. After all, they say, jockeys work for a couple of minutes at a stretch in most cases, only labouring for above three in longer races, such as the Melbourne Cup.
Those casual observers do not see all the behind the scenes efforts involving track work and training that can present hazards to the health and well-being of a jockey very similar to actual races, or the measures jockeys frequently take that involve self-deprivation and discipline in order to keep their weight in check.
When a jockey gets up into his forties, or in the case of Cassidy, into his fifties, the cumulative toll of years of sacrifice often spell the end of a career in the saddle, but to paraphrase a famous comedian of yesteryear, Jim Cassidy might say, “The reports of my decline in productivity have been greatly exaggerated.”
Jim Cassidy has wisely devoted quite a bit of energy to his self-preservation and longevity by taking progressively longer breaks as he approaches the inevitable day when he takes his last ride, but even at the age of 51, he is sought by trainers and owners who know that having their horses beneath Cassidy is a smart move.
After winning four Group 1 events recently, two on Zoustar and one each on Dissident and Steps in Time, he is closing in on Roy Higgins and George Moore for all-time major race wins, along with Damien Oliver.
Two Melbourne Cup victories, including a remarkable run from the back of the pack aboard Kiwi in 1983 and another impressive ride on Might And Power in 1997 are key highlights of Cassidy’s riding career, as are a 1998 Cox Plate win on Might And Power in 1998 and three Australian Derby wins in 1990, 1993 and 2009. These and other feats of his competence earned him entry into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2012.
Jim Cassidy fans are sometimes heard to lament that he no longer gets the quality of horses that he at one time commanded, but to that, anyone with any inkling whatsoever would be quick to point out that regardless of the size of a jockey’s talent, the horse that is capable of winning Group 1 races is not assigned haphazardly, and Cassidy’s recent record would seem to imply that he is still considered formidable, else-wise it would be necessary it grant him superhuman powers in order to win big events on substandard mounts.
He has amassed his impressive record, including his inclusion in a group of only seven jockeys to win the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups, the Cox Plate and the Golden Slipper Stakes.
To any other critics of the sport of racing, those who maintain that jockeys are not athletes, it should be pointed out that the sport of racing almost lost out to rugby in the competition for his services. Growing up in New Zealand, he toured Australia at the age of eleven as part of a group of New Zealanders considered as top prospects as future ruggers.
Jim Cassidy was matched up with Kiwi in 1981. The pair displayed fine form in winning races and a maturity on the part of young Cassidy that was out of character for young jockeys. Even though he was only 20 at the time, with a limited racing resume behind him, he contentedly let the other 23 competitors in the field do all the work, holding Kiwi back for a stretch run for the very back, running down the field and winning by over a length, posting one of the faster times in Cup history.
That early success prompted relocation to Sydney for Cassidy, where he was popular with punters who enjoyed his go-for-broke approach to racing. He was and is the working man’s jockey also, riding an average of five races per meeting rather than lounging in the jockey’s room, for the bulk of his career. He has been especially efficient at Randwick and Canterbury, but he is not a homer by any stretch, as his record at tracks beyond the capital is equally impressive.
He narrowly escaped a three year suspension in 1995 for his role in the Jockey Tapes Affair that had such profound implications for the sport of racing. The length of that suspension was subsequently reduced to less than two years, but the timing of the suspension, coming at it did whilst he was in his prime, generates much speculation as to the impact it had on his career.
He also endured the typical litany of injuries inherent to the demands on the body of a jockey, including knee and back problems, but it was a gardening incident where he almost severed his fingers that almost put an end to his riding days. That bit is for those who do not consider gardening an actual sport.
The final piece of evidence presented in the case that Jim Cassidy is still viable as a jockey of quality mounts would be his accomplishment of supplying four winners at a meeting held at Rosehill in May of 2014.
Jim Cassidy does not have a ride for the 2014 Melbourne Cup, so the possibility that Damien Oliver and Glen Boss could stretch their lead over him in terms of Melbourne Cup victories exists, but at least in the case of Boss, it could be said that he would have had zero Cup victories had he not had the good fortune to be able to glance betwixt his legs and see Makybe Diva beneath him for his three, but such are the sublime vicissitudes of racing that make for at least some of its entertainment value.
Whether or not Jim Cassidy can receive the quality of horses and the opportunities to give serious chase to Higgins and Moore is another of those vicissitudes. The recently deceased Roy Higgins abandoned the saddle at about the age of 45 and George Moore was over 60 when he took his last ride, so it is legitimate conjecture to think that Jim Cassidy has one or several races ahead of him and a chance to more indelibly etch his name into the annals of racing.