ALL Darren Gauci wanted to do after passing the Caulfield winning post for the final time yesterday in the race named after him was to keep going.
It was the natural instinct of a horseman whose livelihood and love of the job combined to make him one of Australia’s greatest jockeys and one of the most loved personalities in racing.
Saying goodbye was always going to be a wrench.
When the 51-year-old faded into eighth position on Longeron — a son of champion Lonhro who Gauci rode to victory in the 2001 Caulfield Guineas — he still wanted to continue.
“I went past the post and I thought ... I just want to keep riding him,” an emotional Gauci said after coming back to the loud cheers of the crowd including his wife Karen, their four children Jade, Breanna, Brooke and Sean, his family and the extended racing community.
“I am so overwhelmed ... it is just amazing the support I have had throughout the week.”
Gauci’s last ride — after a career stretching back to his early teens, and which produced more than 2500 wins and 35 Group 1s from his 24,000-plus rides — did not provide a victory, but he did manage one yesterday, saluting on the aptly-named Goodwill seven races earlier. It is hard to think of a more loved hoop — veteran racecaller Bryan Martin called him “the most universally loved racing person I have ever seen”.
Gauci had three rides yesterday — a win on Goodwill in Race 2, a fifth on Miss Gidget in Race 6 and eighth on Longeron in the Darren Gauci Farewell Handicap — before starting his new career as an apprentice riding coach with Racing Victoria tomorrow.
His father, Bill, couldn’t have been more proud when Gauci managed to gain a tight victory on Goodwill.
“I watched the race and thought he got beaten,” he said.
“Then I looked up and saw the number 8 — and he had won it.
“He always tries his hardest to win.
“That’s what he did today. I won’t miss the nerves (watching him ride), especially when he fell at Yarra Glen all those years ago (Gauci was in a coma for several days). “Me and my wife used to worry.” The jockeys not engaged in Race 3 came out to watch him win for Lloyd Williams and those who were competing in the last race — as well as many champions of the past including Gary Willetts — formed a guard of honour as he headed into the mounting yard one last time.
That brotherhood affected Gauci as much as anything else.
As did the special presentation the Melbourne Racing Club made to him after the last race, shortly after Greg Miles — himself retiring later in the year — closed his career by saying:
“Thanks for the memories ‘Gauch’, you’re a legend.” His wife, Karen, the former Young Talent Time star who met her husband when he appeared on the show in 1983, said it was “amazing” he rode a final day winner.
She revealed their children, who all rushed down to the scales to watch their father weigh in, had something special planned for him last night.
“I don’t even know what it is,” the retiring jockey said. “They have been acting pretty sheepish.”
Hopefully it involved a decent feed. As he honoured his final riding commitments, summing up Longeron’s performance to trainer Wayne Hawkes, he joked: “I’m going to have a big hamburger.”
After everything Gauci has given to the industry across three quarters of his life — champion apprentice, champion jockey and champion bloke — no one deserves it more.