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Tribute to Bob Skelton

(Bob Skelton)

Bob Skelton,who died in Melbourne on Friday (19/08/2016) at the age of 81, achieved greatness as a jockey through his ability to get horses to relax.

"He was a great rider and would get horses to relax on a loose rein whether he was riding them in work or in a race. He was very kind to his mounts,'' said Brian Anderton, the White Robe Lodge principal, who rode against Skelton in races and track work on many occasions. "You'd think ---- I've got you beaten. He'd be leaning forward, a loop in the reins but his horse would just keep coming.''

Skelton won 20 races over two miles or the equivalent 3200m, the best record of a jockey in Australia or New Zealand. He was the leading New Zealand jockey nine times in the 1950s and 60s. He had won 2192 races when he retired from race riding in 1988. He was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1978; inducted to the NZ Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and an inaugural inductee to the NZ Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.

Skelton was born in Greymouth, the third eldest of five brothers who became jockeys. The others were Bill (a leading jockey), Frank, Errol and Max. Bob had his first ride on an outlaw pit pony in his home town of Cobden at the age of 10 and served his apprenticeship with Lionel Pratt at Orari. He was credited with his first riding win in January, 1951 at Omoto aboard Airmine, who was promoted from second after the relegation of Final Cast for causing interference.  Bob was the leading apprentice in the 1952-53 season with  32 wins. Bill Skelton was the leading jockey the same season with 64 wins and trainer Pratt the leading trainer with 35.

Skelton shifted to Wingatui in 1954 after completion of his apprenticeship and he married Brian's sister, Maureen Anderton in 1957. They lived there until 1966 when they shifted to Auckland. They moved to Melbourne in 1978. That was the year Bob broke his thigh in a race fall at New Plymouth which put him out of action for seven months. Maureen died in 2000. Bob won the 1959 Wellington Cup (two miles) on Ark Royal, trained at Wingatui by Ashley Powell for George Barton. He was back to win that race on Great Sensation, owned and trained  at Wingatui by Mick Brown, in three successive years from 1961, the last with 60.5kg. Bob rated Great Sensation the finest thoroughbred he rode. His greatest moment in racing was winning the 1973 Melbourne Cup on Van der Hum on a track that turned to a quagmire after torrential rain on the day. Bob rode Princess Mellay in her second successive NZ Cup win 1971. The mare was trained at Wingatui by his father-in-law, Hector Anderton and raced by Hector's wife, Alice. It was during his time at  Wingatui that Bob met Her Majesty the Queen at a Royal garden party in Dunedin in 1963. Bob also won the NZ Cup on Oreka (1960) and Heidsieck (1977). City Court gave Bob his fifth Wellington Cup win in 1969. He won the Auckland Cup on Rose Mellay (1974) and Royal Cadenza (1977). He won the Perth Cup over 3200m in 1980 and 81 on Magistrate. One of his most poignant wins was the 1977 Trentham Stakes on Show Gate when the two-time Horse of the Year split a sesamoid. It was to be the last race for the two-time Horse of the Year, owned and trained at Mosgiel Park by Gordon Thomson. The same year Bob rode Grey Way to win the Easter Handicap at Ellerslie under 60.5kg, with the first three margins, a neck, a nose and a dead-heat.

Bob, who was stricken with cancer last year, is survived by his children, Mark, Tracey, Craig and Jane and eight grandchildren.