The passing of Jockey Venice 'Pappy' Richards mirrors former apprentice jockey Alex Higgins' death.
  • The passing of Venice ‘Pappy’ Richards, Southern Caribbean jockey, mirrors former apprentice jockey Alex Higgins’ death

By Andrew Atkinson

Barbados born Venice ‘Pappy’ Richards, dubbed the greatest jockey in Southern Caribbean thoroughbred racing history, has passed away in Trinidad and Tobago, aged 78.

Richards, relatively unknown by most punters in the racing world in Britain, endured months of fading health and eyesight.

His passing hits home, mirroring that of former apprentice jockey Alex Higgins, who died a decade ago in May, aged 61.

Higgins, who I personally knew from covering snooker in the UK for 20 years during his heyday, died alone and destitute in Belfast in a flat.

Destitute and alone, Richards, 76, also died in a room at the Hummingbird Stud Farm Stables, near Santa Rosa Park in Arima.

Like ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, how could such an icon, a legend of almost 10 decades in Caribbean horse racing, suffer such an unbefitting exit?

Richards suffered diabetes and hypertension that left him thin, frail and partially blind.

Medical expenses became challenging, after his employment contract with the Arima Race Club (ARC) was not renewed in January.

Mark Johnston and Nicky Henderson trained Hurricane Higgins, named in honour of Alex Higgins.

Despite earning millions Higgins’ snooker colleagues and friends rallied round to raise £20,000 for him to undergo dental treatment in Marbella. He was too ill to have it done.

Richards, who rode over 1,400 winners during an illustrious career, turned his back on becoming a trainer and committed himself to tutoring riders at Jockeys’ schools in his native Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Richards, nine times champion in Barbados and T&T, completed the Triple Crown. The Guineas, Midsummer Classic and Derby in 1989 on Coo Bird. Richards won six Derby races in his career, four in Barbados and two in T&T. Five Barbados Guineas wins, four victories in the Midsummer Classic and four triumphs in the Cockspur Gold Cup, (now the Sandy Lane Gold Cup).

Richards’ first Gold Cup win came in 1986, riding Bentom. Further GC wins followed on Sandford Prince in 1989, 1991 and 1992.

Richards also won 85 races in the United States in the seventies at New England’s Rockingham Park and Suffolk Downs; and at Lincoln Downs and Finger Lakes.

The Caribbean’s all-time most successful jockey, Patrick Husbands, with 3,370 North American wins and accolades in Canadian racing, said: “I think he is the best rider in the Caribbean.”

Richards, 5’ 4” tall, riding weight of between 110-112 lbs, received the Barbados Government National Award, the Silver Crown of Merit (SCM) in 1991. He was inducted into Barbados Racing Hall of Fame, and the racing Hall of Fame for Trinidad and Tobago.

T&T’s ARC has a Benevolent Fund in place, to help former jockeys falling on hard times. Richards did not appear to have been a beneficiary.

Andrew Atkinson will be featuring Alex Higgins, twice world snooker champion, who started out teenage years as an apprentice jockey, prior to becoming a legend of the green baize.

“Alex started off in life as an apprentice jockey – and up until his dying day – continued to hold racing close to his heart,” said Andrew.

“I knew Alex during annual coverage of the Coral UK Championship in Preston over almost two decades.

“We both liked a drink – and a bet. And chatted about our love of horse racing. Including his time as an apprentice jockey,” said Andrew.