Trailblazing indigenous jockey Darby McCarthy dies aged 76

Horse Racing Darby McCarthy jockey
Darby McCarthy: legendary 1960s jockey was a pioneering figure for indigenous sportspeople

By Nicholas Godfrey

Australia: The Australian racing community is in mourning following the death of legendary jockey Darby McCarthy at the age of 76.

A pioneering figure for indigenous sportspeople, the trailblazing McCarthy was one of Australia’s leading riders in the 1960s when he won a string of top races.

One of 13 children born and raised in an outback family at Cunnamulla, Western Queensland, McCarthy became one of the leading jockeys in a golden period for Australian riders.

Based in his native Queensland for much of his career, he was a three-time winner in the mid-1960s of the state’s signature race, the Stradbroke at Eagle Farm in Brisbane. 

However, McCarthy enjoyed his most memorable day in the saddle after he moved to Sydney with a G1 double at Randwick in 1969 when he landed both the AJC Derby and time-honoured Epsom Handicap on the same card, with Divide And Rule and Broker’s Tip respectively. On both occasions, he eclipsed the great George Moore.

His career was not without controversy. He rode, not very successfully, in France for a spell in 1970s – alongside his sparring partner Bill Pyers, Dahlia’s jockey – before returning home where his name was linked to a race-fixing scandal in 1976 at Hamilton in Victoria.

McCarthy stressed his innocence until his dying day; his original seven-year warning-off period was later quashed and he finally received a formal pardon in 2007.

McCarthy suffered alcohol problems and an attempt at a career resurrection faltered before he finally retired in 1991, after which he became something of an elder statesman within the industry.

In 2009 Racing NSW launched the Darby McCarthy Indigenous Employment and Training Program with McCarthy as mentor. As a barrier-breaking role model to young indigenous people, he was fondly known as ‘Uncle’ Darby.

According to AAP Racing, Olympic champion athlete Cathy Freeman described the influence he had on her in his biography, Against All Odds. “Darby influenced me and encouraged me to strive for excellence in all that I do and to persevere against all odds and for this I will forever be thankful,” Freeman said.

“We first met in Queensland when I was 15 and Darby and his family were kind enough to let me stay on weekends away from boarding school at Toowoomba.”

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’Landys commented: “Darby McCarthy was not only a champion jockey but an outstanding person.

“He was respected by all and always willing to help with mentoring and encouraging young entrants to the racing industry.

“Racing NSW is forever indebted to Darby for his unwavering support and enthusiasm for the upskilling of young indigenous entrants to the racing industry, as well as his tremendous contribution to our industry throughout the many years he served as a jockey.”

Racing NSW have nominated McCarthy to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame; he was inducted into the Queensland Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.

Jockeys will wear black armbands at the Toowoomba Turf Club on Sunday, where a race will be named in his honour.

Read more about Darby McCarthy at Racenet

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