Twenty-five years after winning his first Wagga Gold Cup, former jockey Jim Cassidy will be at the Murrumbidgee Turf Club again in May, as a carnival ambassador.
In a better world, David Mavroudis would be there too.
He’d be there with father John, mother Colleen and sister Jane Elkin – to toast Cassidy, a close family friend and a member of Australian Racing’s Hall of Fame, in the first autumn of his retirement. And celebrate his cousin Barbara’s business winning the naming rights to this year’s Cup.
In a better world, David would’ve been there in 2003 as well, when Cassidy won both the Town Plate (on Ta Ta Tatiana) and his second Gold Cup (on Kreisler Mirage).
“That whole week leading into the Cup for years in our family was such an exciting week…. When all that happened with David it just was never the same,” Jane says.
“I wasn’t there (in 2003) but I remember Mum and Dad and everyone getting on the phone and just going mental. It was amazing, so emotional. It was a bit freakish.”
Aged 28, David died in the Bali bombings of October 2002. The computer programmer – a talented sportsman with a sharp wit and gentle nature that saw him make friends easily – was one of 88 Australians killed, as he enjoyed an end-of-season footy trip with his rugby league team, the Coogee Dolphins.
“Funnily enough, the night before David went to Bali we all had dinner at my unit in the city,” Cassidy says.
“David was like a brother to me, you know. It was really hard. It was obviously a lot worse for Mav and Colleen and Janey… It hurt, but I had to be strong around John.
“I was trying to win the Caulfield Cup or the Melbourne Cup and be trying to dedicate it or something.”
Cassidy did win the Norman Robinson Stakes at Caulfield on Cup day, paying a public tribute to David after the emotional victory on Platinum Scissors.
With the Mavroudis family and friends gathered in Sydney for a memorial for the Bali victims, he had a hire car waiting at the races to take him to the airport as soon as the race had finished.
John recalls Cassidy’s support.
“When David… (Jimmy) just put everything down and said, ‘Look, I’m with you’. We couldn’t have asked for more.”
Jane says they were all lucky to have a big support network, which included Cassidy and wife Vicki and many more. Jane had just moved into their Coogee unit.
“I dropped them at the airport (to go to Melbourne for the spring carnival) and I was so excited because it was this amazing unit that overlooked Coogee. I was thinking all my Christmases had come at once. I was there one night and that was when all the dreaded crap went down.
“From that point on, Jimmy just kind of held the fort really. He was just handed the baton and went with it, as did Vicki.”
The pair kept an eye on Jane’s well-being, knowing better than she did that she was working through the stages of grief. Jane’s grateful too for Cassidy’s close relationship with her parents.
“He loves Wagga – loves nothing more than sitting around Mum’s dining room table. Dad and him have just always had that special bond, a real great mateship. They’re very different people at different stages of their lives (but) they just work.”
They do share a passion for yabbying.
“Jimmy used to bring his kids down and we’d go out for the day,” John says. “And our relationship, trying to get together more, has been more on yabbying. He flies up, we get the yabbies in and he flies back.”
When the jockey rode the Wagga feature double in 2003, the Town Plate was a late pick-up. When the call came, it interrupted their yabbying.
The pair have been mates since Cassidy won the 1991 Gold Cup on Greenback. The jockey – who had won his first Melbourne Cup eight years earlier as a 20-year old aboard Kiwi – rode for Rosehill-based New Zealander, Kerry Jordan.
The trainer’s brother, Chris, was the stable foreman. A former Kiwi rugby league international, Chris had been a friend of Mavroudis’ since 1977 when he came to play with Wagga Magpies, only to be denied a clearance by the NZRL.
“I ended up going back home but while I was there, Mav really looked after me,” Jordan says. “He loved a beer and a bet and so did I. I spent about four months there.”
They stayed in touch and it was through Jordan that Cassidy made his connection to Wagga. A fellow Kiwi with an infectious laugh not dissimilar to his compatriot, Jordan cracks up when he remembers a media interview in the build-up to the 1991 Cup.
“Jimmy was a bit of a cock-of-the-hoop kind of bloke and the reporter said to him, ‘Well, have you ever ridden around Wagga?’ Meaning, you know, it’s a different track - do you know your way around?
“And Jimmy’s response was, ‘Hasn’t it got a running rail?’ Hahahaha.
“That was Jimmy, basically, ‘As long as it’s got a rail, I know how to ride the track!’”
It was classic Cassidy – puns and personality backed up by performance.
When he retired last November, a couple of months shy of his 53rd birthday, Cassidy had won 104 Group One races and is one of a select few to complete racing’s grand slam of the Melbourne Cup (twice), Caulfield Cup (twice), Cox Plate and Golden Slipper.
But he was almost as well known for the catch-cries ‘Ring-a-ding-ding, Jimmy’s the king’ and ‘Clickety-clack, the Pumper’s back’ that inevitably followed the big successes.
“He puts a bit of a show on and I think it’s funny - I always laugh at him - but he’s far from that person that people think he is,” Jane says.
“He’s got one of the biggest hearts I know. He’d do anything for his family and friends.”
Jordan says there was talent to match the larger-than-life personality.
“None better I don’t think, on his day. Jimmy could sit three deep in a race and they’d keep running for him. I don’t know how he did it. Any other jock could sit three deep like that and they’d be getting a stitch at the 600 but Jimmy just - if he did get caught deep, he had an amazing knack to be able to keep the horse going. He’s a wonderful horseman, Jimmy, and a champion bloke.”
He remains a patron of the Coogee Dolphins, lending his support to club events and proudly wearing the team’s colours. And he’s looking forward to his next trip to Wagga.
“Life’s got to go on but you never forget,” Cassidy says. “Look, there were sad days, there were good days. There were days we laughed and reflected on David and different things.
“There’s always sadness but down the end of the tunnel there’s always light and there’s laughter and that’s what we’re able to do.”
It’s with the same attitude that Cassidy looks back on his career, from the joys of multiple success on racing’s biggest days, to the lows of a 21-month ban for the jockey tapes scandal. It’s enough to fill a book – and there’s one on the way.
“It’ll be a good story, there’ll be plenty of things that people didn’t know,” Cassidy says. “People will be able to make up their own mind on a lot of things. Without giving much away, it’s the old saying ‘you do the crime, you do the time’ but sometimes it shouldn’t have gone that way.”