The only First Nations jockey to ever win the Melbourne Cup will be honoured today at Flemington and now his family want the late Frank Reys to be immortalised with a statue as well.
Reys was a legendary jockey who rode to victory more than a thousand times during his 30-year career, made history in 1973 when he became the first Aboriginal jockey to win the prestigious Melbourne Cup aboard Gala Supreme
To this day, he remains the only First Nations person to hold this coveted title.
On top of that, Reys is the sole jockey to have triumphed from the challenging Barrier 24, a feat deemed almost impossible because of how wide out the rider and horse start the race.
Now, the family of the late Frank Reys from Cairns is advocating for his legacy to be immortalised in bronze.
Frank Reys was the only First Nations jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, pictured in 1973 after his win with his daughter Deborah, 15
On Tuesday, the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) will pay tribute to Frank Reys at Flemington by displaying memorabilia commemorating his historic 1973 Melbourne Cup victory aboard Gala Supreme.
Susan Reys, a renowned artist and Frank’s niece, believes that Cairns should also honor her determined uncle’s remarkable achievement with a statue in his full victory pose.
She emphasised the need to share his inspiring story, telling News Corp, ‘He should be seen by everybody, and his story should be shared.’
Member for Cairns Michael Healy echoed this sentiment, emphasising the importance of memorialising Reys’ incredible journey.
‘Frank Reys holds a remarkable place in the sporting and First Nations history of Far North Queensland. We should remember his achievements with pride and find a way to properly recognise and celebrate his life,’ he said.
Frank Reys, born to a Djirrbal mother and a Filipino father in Far North Queensland, started his connection with horses at a young age.
FRANK REYS 1973 MELBOURNE CUP VICTORY SPEECH
‘I kept picking myself up off the ground and hoping I would win a Melbourne Cup.
‘It’s something that every Australian jockey dreams about.
‘I still can’t believe it. I don’t know what to believe. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.
‘I thank the Lord, my family and my trainer. I’ll never forget this.’
He learned to ride almost before he could walk and pursued wild brumbies with his brothers along the Mulgrave River.
In his late teens, he became an apprentice jockey.
Over his four-decade-long career, Reys achieved over 1300 wins, including victories in the Oaks Stakes (1962), the Australasian Cup (1969), and consecutive Oakleigh Plates (1970, ’71).
However, his most cherished accomplishment was his Melbourne Cup triumph in 1973, where he overcame nine previous unsuccessful attempts.
Known for his enduring smile, Reys faced racism throughout his life, even during his early days as a jockey in Far North Queensland.
‘I think it comes back to him feeling culturally unsafe, and that’s not his fault,’ his daughter Deb told ABC.
‘I think society [at the time] was such that he wasn’t culturally safe to identify completely.
‘But I do know he was proud.’
Despite the discrimination he encountered, Reys remained resolute in pursuing his passion and breaking barriers.
Hemoved south to pursue his career, distancing himself from his Aboriginal heritage due to the prevailing assimilation policies and discrimination of the time.
Instead, he identified as the son of a Filipino canecutter and a proud Queenslander.
As the Victoria Racing Club formally recognises Frank Reys as the first and only First Nations jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, his legacy stands as a testament to his unwavering determination and the barriers he overcame throughout his remarkable career.
His legacy was enduring and he was even mentioned in former world No 1 tennis player and proud Indigenous athlete Ash Barty’s biography.
His daughter said: ‘He’d be thrilled to know First Nations people found inspiration in what he achieved.’