Racing: Legendary Kiwi jockey passes away

By Mike Dillon

Legendary jockey Bill Skelton has passed away. Photo / File
Legendary jockey Bill Skelton has passed away. Photo / File

When you heard the world "Blummy" spoken you knew Bill Skelton was close by.

Bill was a smiley gentleman who refused to swear. Blummy was his swearword. Only he used it and it left this world when he passed away yesterday aged 85.

"Bustling Bill" Skelton was an extraordinary jockey, whose nickname became as well known as his real name. The nickname emanated from his style of riding - get them out of the barriers and, in racing parlance, "send them".

Bill won a lot of races from the front, but he didn't lead with recklessness, he did with exquisite judgement. You don't set a record number of career wins that lasts a quarter of a century by luck alone.

He retired in 1977 with 2179 wins to his name, 2156 in New Zealand, a record that stood until Lance O'Sullivan surpassed it in 2002. There were many less races around when Bill was riding.

Bill, and his equally famous brother Bob, were from a family that produced five jockey sons from their base near Greymouth. Bob died from a cancer-related illness in Victoria in August.

Bob Skelton, often with a loop in the reins and long stirrups, was an extraordinary judge of pace in staying races. The pair could not be more different in riding style. Bill, short from knee to foot, bullied horses without hurting them, much in the style favoured these days by Matt Cameron. Bob, much taller, could lay over a horse, but like his brother, his balance was immaculate.

Bill never wavered from his belief Daryl's Joy, trained at Woodville by Syd Brown, was by far the best horse he rode. Daryl's Joy was New Zealand champion 2YO in 1968 and champion Australian 3YO after winning the Cox Plate and Victoria Derby. The colt was untouchable as a 3-year-old and a three-quarter share was subsequently sold to an American owner.

When Bill retired to train a relatively small team with wife Nella, he proved his bullying riding style was misleading by declaring that in training he believed in the soft touch.

"Kindness goes a long way," he was fond of saying as he stroked a racehorse.

Bill was inducted into the NZ Sports Hall Of Fame in 1990 and the NZ Racing Hall Of Fame in 2006. His brothers Frank, Max and Errol all rode.

For all his bustling, sprint-oriented riding style, Bill Skelton rode the winners of all three of New Zealand's major two-mile staying contests. He took the Auckland Cup on Lucky Son, the New Zealand Cup on Foglia D'Oro and Wellington Cup on Loofah.

That's a bloody, oops, sorry, blummy good record.

- NZ Herald

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