Champion distance jockey Bob Skelton dies, aged 81

Winning team: Bob Skelton and 1976 Melbourne Cup winner Van der Hum. Photo: Ray KennedyBob Skelton, known as one of Australasia’s most gifted distance riders and who endured deplorable conditions to win the 1976 Melbourne Cup on Van der Hum, has died at the age of 81.

Skelton came to Australia from New Zealand late in his career but was renowned for his superb balance and ability to ride stayers.

He was one of five brothers who were all jockeys in a famous NZ racing family.

That day in November 1976 is still believed to be have delivered the most atrocious conditions a Melbourne Cup has been run under.

Just hours before the race, Flemington was hit by a deluge of rain, making viewing nearly impossible.

But Skelton’s renowned ability on wet tracks helped Van der Hum plough through the mud to win Australia’s most important handicap.

Inducted into the NZ Sports Hall of Fame and NZ Racing Hall of Fame, Skelton was declared the most successful two-mile rider in the southern hemisphere. He won 2129 races during his decorated time in the saddle.

Skelton raced to prominence in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, winning nine jockeys premierships in NZ, five Wellington Cups, two Auckland Cups and three New Zealand Cups.

Skelton flew into Australia in 1976 to ride another grand stayer Sulieman in the Cup for trainer Bill Winder. However, after indifferent form in the early lead-up races that spring, the trainer advised Skelton to ride Van der Hum instead.

In 1963, Skelton had finished second in the Cup aboard Ilumquh and in 1986 he rode Rising Prince, who also finished second.

Skelton gave much back to the Australian racing industry.

Touring with the Melbourne Cup, he told the story across country of Australia’s finest horse race.

He believed that Great Sensation, a three-time Wellington Cup winner, was the finest horse he’d ridden.

He rode five winners in a day on more than two occasions in New Zealand.

Skelton is survived by his four children – Mark, Tracey, Craig and Jane.

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