The only First Nations jockey to ever win the Melbourne Cup will be honored at Flemington today and now his family want the late Frank Reys to also be immortalized with a statue.
Reys was a legendary jockey who rode to victory more than a thousand times during his 30-year career and 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.
Furthermore, Reys is the only jockey to have triumphed in the challenging Barrier 24, a feat considered almost impossible due to the large distance between rider and horse starting the race.
Now the family of the late Frank Reys from Cairns are calling for his legacy to be immortalized in bronze.
Frank Reys was the only First Nations jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, pictured in 1973 after his victory with his daughter Deborah, 15
On Tuesday, the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) at Flemington will pay tribute to Frank Reys by displaying memorabilia to commemorate his historic 1973 Melbourne Cup victory aboard the Gala Supreme.
Susan Reys, a renowned artist and Frank’s niece, believes Cairns should also honor her determined uncle’s remarkable achievement with a statue in his full victory pose.
Stressing the need to share his inspiring story, she told News Corp: “He needs to be seen by everyone and his story needs to be shared.”
Member for Cairns Michael Healy echoed this sentiment and emphasized the importance of remembering Reys’ incredible journey.
“Frank Reys holds a remarkable place in the sporting and First Nations history of Far North Queensland. “We must commemorate his achievements with pride and find a way to properly recognize and celebrate his life,” he said.
Born to a Djirrbal mother and a Filipino father in Far North Queensland, Frank Reys started riding horses at a young age.
FRANK REYS 1973 MELBOURNE CUP VICTORY SPEECH
“I kept getting off the ground hoping I would win the Melbourne Cup.
‘It’s something every Australian jockey dreams of.
‘I still can’t believe it. I don’t know what to believe. It’s the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me.
‘I thank the Lord, my family and my coach. I’ll never forget this.’
He learned to ride almost before he could walk and chased wild brumbies with his brothers along the Mulgrave River.
In his late teens he became an apprentice jockey.
During his four-decade career, Reys racked up more than 1,300 victories, including victories in the Oaks Stakes (1962), the Australasian Cup (1969) and consecutive Oakleigh Plates (1970, ’71).
His most cherished achievement, however, was his 1973 Melbourne Cup victory, where he overcame nine previous failed 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 down 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 it wasn’t culturally safe to fully identify.
“But I do know he was proud.”
Despite the discrimination he faced, Reys remained determined in pursuing his passion and breaking barriers.
He moved south to further 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.
With the Victoria Racing Club formally recognizing Frank Reys as the first and only First Nations jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, his legacy is a testament to his unwavering determination and the barriers he overcame during his remarkable career.
His legacy was lasting and he was even mentioned in the biography of former No. 1 tennis player and proud Indigenous athlete Ash Barty.
His daughter said: “He would love to hear that First Nations people found inspiration in what he achieved.”