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Frank Reys

Frank Reys
Born c.1931
North Queensland, Australia
Died 1984 (age 53)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Nationality Australian
Ethnicity Filipino (father)
& Aboriginal (mother)
Occupation Jockey
Spouse(s) Noelene

Frank Reys (c.1931–1984) was the first, and to date, only Australian Aboriginal jockey to win the prestigious Melbourne Cup when, in 1973, he rode to victory on Gala Supreme.

His career began in Northern Queensland and he raced in North Queensland, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne and Victoria. Reys rode his first winner in 1948 as a 16 year old. In his career as a jockey he clocked up 1,329 winning rides; his 1973 Melbourne Cup win being one of his last. His last ride, also a win, was as a 45 year old in 1976.

In the 1967 referendum, Australia voted in favour of granting Aborigines citizenship rights, and the Reys family celebrated the birth of their third child, Shelley. For Frank Reyes is also the father of Shelley Reys, a director of Reconciliation Australia, a forceful advocate for aboriginal rights, and a prominent voice on aboriginal affairs. In 2004 Shelley was invited to address the board of the National Australia Day Council to propose an indigenous-inclusive way of marking the anniversary of the First Fleet's arrival. As a result of her recommendations, Australia Day 2005 was officially launched during a sunrise ceremony at Uluru.



Because Frank Reys father was Filipino, there was some controversy about whether Frank was Aboriginal. Further confusing the issue, Frank Reys referred to his background as being Filipino. He believed that it would have hindered his prospects had he admitted openly to his aboriginal heritage. There were also concerns about the history of his maternal grandmother. His Aboriginal mother was the daughter of a woman of the Djiribul people of Northern Queensland, who, along with her siblings, was a member of the Stolen Generation. Frank's daughter Shelley Reys once said: "...My father was one of the nine. His name was Frank, the first child in this second round of children. They knew that life could be difficult if certain standards were not adhered to, an unsaid agreement, instinct or silent understanding that served them well. The instinct was to maintain their Filipino heritage, build their standing amongst the community on such a heritage and only then could the family remain intact, free from being removed from their parents and free from the many struggles that other Aboriginal families faced...". Frank Reyes was both Aboriginal and Filipino. His family was proud of their aboriginal heritage, but also just as proud of their Filipino heritage, which bears a quiet presence among his descendants. Frank Reys, ("The Filipino Boy Who Has Done Well!") was a legend in the horse racing industry.

Frank Rey's place in history as the first Aboriginal jockey to win the Melbourne Cup has also been contested. The first pretender who history created was John Cutts on Archer in the first two Melbourne Cups in 1861 and 1862. The second pretender was Peter St. Albans on Briseis in 1876. Neither of these jockeys, however, were Aboriginal, despite the legends that have risen up around them.[citation needed]

Early days

Frank Reyes was born in about 1931, one of 14 children, 8 boys and 6 girls. His father, who had immigrated to North Queensland before Frank was born, was a Filipino labourer and cook who worked on farms in North Queensland – inland from Cairns. He was born of his father's second relationship, and Frank was the first child of 9 to his Aboriginal mother. Frank and his brothers would round up brumbies (wild horses), and break them in, then race in contests between themselves. Frank was the standout and won most of the races, although one of his brothers did ride with success in amateur events. Frank loved to ride, and progressed to riding at Cairns in gymkhanas and pony races before becoming a jockey.

Teenage Frank was first indentured as an apprentice jockey in June 1949, to trainer Alfred Baker at Cairns. Later his apprenticeship was transferred to trainer Gordon Shelley.

During his years as an apprentice Reys rode about 45 winners. He began at Cannon Park Racecourse at Cairns, and at other district meetings. At a meeting at Gordonvale Reys won his first race riding a horse named Cruedon. In the autumn of 1950, Baysure gave him his first win in Brisbane.

At the end of his apprenticeship he traveled widely, showing great determination which allowed him to reach of one of the most coveted of most Australian jockeys' ambitions - to join the select band who have ridden over 1000 winners.

In his early riding years Reys had to battle hard to establish himself as a fully fledged jockey without the assistance of anyone but his "boss", Mr. Shelley. One notable performance by Frank in his Queensland days was to ride four winners in one afternoon at Cunnamulla. Reys was to win the Cunnamulla Cup on three occasions.

Career moves

In 1955 Reys moved to Sydney. He won the Warwick Farm Autumn Handicap on Beaupa and rode three winners in an afternoon at the provincial racecourse Kembla Grange, Wollongong.

Around 1961 Reys moved from Sydney to Melbourne and had considerable success in both the metropolitan area and at Victorian provincial meetings.

Among the highlights of his time in Victoria were:

  • 25 November 1961 - Reys' best day's riding in Victoria in his racing career. He rode five winners in one afternoon at Moe.
  • 1962 Reys won the Oaks Stakes at Flemington on Arctic Star - she was in Ray Hutchins' stable, for whom Reys was the stable rider.
  • 15 June 1963 - At Moonee Valley Reys rode four winners.
  • November 1968 - Reys won the important Bendigo and Ballarat Cups.
  • 22 November Reys rode four winners at Ballarat.

Frank Reys encountered a number of problems starting in January 1969 when he was badly injured just a few days after the William Reid Stakes. A four horse fall at Geelong, would see him smash his pelvis in two places and be hospitalised for three months.

He successfully returned to riding and was lauded in "Turf Monthly" magazine of July 1969 as "riding with considerable success at the Victorian mid-week provincial meetings and lookng like giving the premiership honours in that group a big shake at the end of the season in July." He was about to join the select band who have ridden over 1000 winners.

It was his association with champion sprinting filly Dual Choice that would catapult the name of Frankie Reys into the spotlight. Dual Choice offered the only ray of hope for Frank Reys, as, despite his successes in 1969, he and his family were still struggled financially due to all the racing he had missed due to injuries. Dual Choice, the flying filly – and later mare – won a great many races in the years 1970 to 1972. She was unquestionably one of the great sprinters, and whilst Frank Reys didn’t ride her in all her victories, the two nevertheless developed a great affinity.

On New Year's Day 1973, Frank Reys saw a horse trapped in a barbed wire fence on a farm, and ran to its aid. The already distressed horse took fright and Reys was badly cut from the barbed wire. His family was once more to struggle financially, as workers compensation was not payable as the accident was not work related. In June 1973, Frank Rey’s wife Noeleen pleaded with him not to renew his jockey’s licence when it fell due. The media at the time wrote that he said to his wife he just wanted to renew it so he could have “one more crack at the Melbourne Cup.”

In August 1973, attempting to have his first ride back in the saddle following time off through his injuries, Frank Reys was to have another car accident on the way to the course. Reys climbed out of the wrecked car and rode Tauto to victory at Moonee Valley later that afternoon.

The man who ultimately stood by Frank Reys, through thick and thin, was astute trainer Ray Hutchins: together they had combined to win many races, over many years. Ray Hutchins stood by Frank Reys after a horrible two years in which he had suffered a broken shoulder, two pelvis fractures, a broken cheek bone and an ankle, and earned himself the nickname "Autumn Leaves". Despite these injuries Hutchins entrusted Reys with the ride on the four year old gelding Gala Supreme in the 1973 Caulfield Cup, in which Gala Supreme ran second. Hutchins had long before mapped out the Melbourne Cup as his mission, and after the Caulfield Cup second fielded Gala Supreme for the Cup.

1973 Melbourne Cup

It is the ride of Tuesday 6 November 1973 for which Reys is best remembered. It was on this days that he became the first Aboriginal jockey to ride a winner in the Melbourne Cup. Gala Supreme carrying 7 stone 10 pounds (49 kgs) and Frank Reys won the Melbourne Cup at 9-1 in a time of 3.19.15. Reys and Gala Supreme then cemented their Melbourne Cup victory by winning the Herbert Power Handicap.

The victory of Gala Supreme in front of a crowd of 103,170 will always be remembered. At 41 years of age, Frank Reys was the oldest jockey with a ride in the 1973 Melbourne Cup. Gala Supreme had drawn the extreme outside barrier 24 and that clearly was the only stumbling block in Rey’s mind. Trainer Hutchins would later tell how he and Reys had numerous phone conversations after the barrier draw and discussed various riding tactics. Hutchins recalled he eventually left it up to Reys to ride the horse as he saw fit and Reys told him he’d “have Gala Supreme one off the fence in 5th or 6th position going out of the straight”. Coming from the outside barrier Reys rode just as he had planned. He had Gala Supreme one off the fence, not far behind the leaders, before passing the winning post on the first lap. As the horses turned for home, Reys became buried in the pack, just behind the leaders. Two hundred metres from the winning post Reys squeezed Gala Supreme through a gap, left by the favourite, who had drifted off a straight course. It was only a narrow win, but Gala Supreme had surged home to victory. In his recollections Hutchins continued “and he went and did it – it was the perfect ride – he rode the race of his life for me.”

Frank Reys was a masterful jockey, and by reputation a gentleman. He had returned to riding from injury and adversity and his winning speech is remembered by those who were there for its gentle dignity. A hush came over the Flemington crowd as the diminutive and emotional Frank Reys took the microphone. His victory speech said, in part, “I thank my God, my prayers and my family for their encouragement. This is such a wonderful day. I kept picking myself off the ground and hoping I would win a Melbourne Cup. It’s something every Australian jockey dreams about. I still can’t believe it.” Reys had three of his brothers in the crowd – Fred, Tony and Eric – to witness what was later called “one of the most stunning comebacks from adversity in Australian sporting history.”

In 1976, just three years after his career highlight aboard Gala Supreme, Frank Reys, upon winning a Flemington race for his Melbourne Cup trainer Ray Hutchins, announced his immediate retirement from the saddle. He had just fulfilled another dream of making sure he went out on a winning note. He had also won at his first ride – 28 years earlier as a 16 year old kid – and sandwiched 1329 wins into his career.

Frank Reys underwent cancer surgery in 1981 and he fought a brave battle, before passing away in 1984 – aged 53.



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