The amazing story of the first Aboriginal jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, Frank Reys

Frank Reys was 41 and the oldest jockey in the field when he lined up in the barrier stalls on 9-1 shot Gala Supreme for the 1973 Melbourne Cup.

His comeback just to ride again is a story in itself, but over the next three minutes and 20 seconds, he forever etched his name into the history books by becoming the first Indigenous jockey to win Australia’s iconic race. He was also the first to win from the extreme outside barrier, 24.

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Autumn leaves

In the years leading up to the 1973 Melbourne Cup, Reys had nearly retired several times. He’d broken nearly every bone in his body in various race falls (which earned him the nickname ‘autumn leaves’), and as if that wasn’t enough, he was also injured in a car crash. But every time he came back.

Maybe it had something to do with his upbringing. Although he was only 49 kilograms wringing wet, he was tough and resilient. He’d been raised as one of fourteen children in Cairns.

A trainer’s belief

Gala Supreme’s trainer Ray Hutchins had a soft spot for Reys. He convinced him that his four-year-old gelding would be worth Reys going through all the rehabilitation from his injuries to get back in the saddle for a crack at the Melbourne Cup.

Reys started riding Gala Supreme in the winter of 1973 as part of a long-range plan to win the Cup on the first Tuesday in November. He quickly had success, which convinced both he and Hutchins that the horse was primed for Australia’s two greatest handicap races: the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.

Hutchins’ faith in Reys was rewarded when the jockey guided Gale Supreme to a second-place finish in the 2,400-metre Caulfield Cup, a race traditionally runs just a couple of weeks before the 3,200-metre Melbourne Cup. Both Hutchins and Reys were confident that the four-year-old gelding would be better for the run and better over the longer Melbourne Cup distance. They hatched a race plan to snatch Australian horse racing’s greatest prize.

Reys decided that the best tactic would be to get Gala Supreme in from his wide barrier as quickly as possible, positioning him one off the fence and just behind the leaders for the majority of the race. The Melbourne Cup is a race for stayers who have the stamina to finish strongly.

He followed the plan perfectly. As the field went past the Flemington winning post for the first time, Reys had Gala Supreme exactly where he wanted him. Then as they rounded the turn for home, Reys started searching for a gap to burst through. He found one when he and Gala Supreme were about 200 metres from the finish line. The champion horse chased down the leaders to score a narrow victory, the greatest one of any jockey’s career.

Reys acknowledged his comeback struggles from injury in his victory speech – “I kept picking myself off the ground and hoping I would win a Melbourne Cup. It’s something every Australian jockey dreams about. I still can’t believe it.”

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