Roy Higgins, or ‘The Professor’ as the racing world has always known him, won major races in every Australian state. It was a rare achievement in a career that extended from 1953 as an apprentice in Deniliquin (New South Wales), until 1984. After establishing himself in regional racing circles, he made his way to Melbourne, where he was to become one of Victoria’s greatest ever jockeys.
Higgins won his first Melbourne Jockeys’ Premiership in 1965 and he was to go on to win it a further ten times (1966, 1969-1973, 1975-1978) to equal the long-standing record of Bill Duncan.
Higgins was an exponent of perfect balance and consummate judgment, coupled with admirable finesse in planning race tactics that so often were deciding factors in his most memorable wins. He was the jockey for all courses, with an incomparable record in Australia’s biggest races that stamped him as a worthy champion in any era.
Higgins rode over 2300 winners, including two Melbourne Cups, 1965 on ‘Light Fingers’ and 1967 on ‘Red Handed’, both for trainer Bart Cummings. He also won the WS Cox Plate in 1964 and 1972, the 1969 Caulfield Cup, the Golden Slipper in 1966 and 1973, the Victorian Derby in 1966, 1972, 1973, and 1977, the Sydney Cup in 1962 and 1969, and the Doncaster Handicap in 1972 and 1974. His five VRC Oakes wins were in 1962, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1972, and 1974 and his six AJC Oakes wins were in 1962, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1972, and 1974. He also won the Newmarket Handicap in 1972 and 1973 and the Blue Diamond Stakes in 1971, 1975, 1977, and 1979. He also won races in South Africa, France, Hong Kong and Belgium. Some of the horses he was associated with include ‘Gunsynd’, ‘Leilani’, ‘Storm Queen’ and ‘Big Philou’.
At the VRC’s Autumn Carnival at Flemington in March 1972, Higgins rode a record 12 winners over three days, including five in one day. In 1973, he rode a record eight consecutive metropolitan winners. On four occasions he rode four winners -at Moonee Valley in 1965 and 1972, Caulfield in 1968, and Flemington in 1977.
Higgins was awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1974 for his services to racing. Higgins retired from the riding in 1983 declaring his ambition as “to be a little fat man”. His last ride in a race was at Flemington in October 1983, after which he went on to take his place in media ranks. He was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2001.