One of New Zealand jumps racing's traditional days will be held under a cloud of sorrow at Hastings today after the death of respected horseman Toby Autridge.
The 60-year-old died in hospital yesterday just two days after having a stroke, having endured pain and intensive medication since breaking his neck in a race fall in 1999.
That never stopped him training after a wonderful riding career highlighted by the incredible story of riding Dandeleith to second in the 1978 Melbourne Cup when he was just 16 years old.
"I reckon he had only ridden about 15 winners at that stage, but the horse's owner wanted him on, so over he went," remembers brother and fellow outstanding horseman Stephen.
"He was always a good jockey and rode over 800 winners in five or six different countries.
"He was a leading rider in Asia, yet won the Great Northern double at Ellerslie before going back to flat riding and winning the Sires' Produce."
That Great Northern double at Ellerslie came in 1989 when he rode Noble Heritage to win the Hurdles on the Saturday and Tumblin' Down the iconic Steeplechase on Queen's Birthday Monday.
While his brutal race fall at Ruakaka in 1999 curtailed his riding career, he trained at the highest level, including winning the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington with Al Dwain while training with father Bob.
His more recent training highlights have been with jumpers including Tommyra winning the Hawke's Bay Hurdles last year, and he will return to Hastings today to race in Autridge's name in the KS Browne Hurdle, named after another of the New Zealand jumps racing greats who is no longer with us.
"Tony wanted the horses to go down there and race, so they will," says Stephen. "He also told us if he died, we couldn't have his funeral this Thursday because he has a horse going to Hawera," adds Stephen, his chuckle fading to a sigh.
Today's Hastings meeting will be the highlight of the jumping season so far, with five jumps races bringing some of our jumping elite like The Cossack back, while outstanding rider Aaron Kuru is back from Australia against fellow stars Shaun Fannin and Shaun Phelan.
But there is certain to be one champion of the game on everybody's mind at Hastings today.
Toby Autridge is survived by his wife Debbie and two adult children, who were able to come home from Australia to be with their father on the weekend.
- by Michael Guerin, NZ Herald