CAMPERDOWN jockey ‘Nifty’ Neville Wilson instigated some of the biggest changes to rider safety in history, a long-time friend and colleague says.
Victorian Jockeys’ Association (VJA) executive officer Des O’Keefe said he was lucky and proud to have worked with Wilson during his years in the industry.
Wilson, 65, announced his riding retirement yesterday after failing in his bid to return to the saddle following a fall at Geelong in March last year.
He suffered injuries to his vertebrae, shoulder, right arm and left thumb in the fall, which ultimately ended his 50-year career.
O’Keefe said Wilson had been “the most incredible asset for Victorian jockeys over a long period of time”.
He said rider safety and insurance had improved dramatically during Wilson’s 20-year term as chairman of the VJA. “We understand if you go to a country track you don’t expect it to be like Crown Towers,” he said.
“But there were some basic minimum standards that needed to be met. They weren’t onerous.
“But now these standards have been met so when these people go to work they have reasonable conditions to do their work in.
“The improvements to safety are significant,” he said. “And the insurance available to riders that are injured has also been a significant improvement while Neville has been chairman of the association.”
O’Keefe said the Victorian racing industry adopted a personal accident insurance policy on the back of Wilson’s leadership.
He also played a major role in the introduction of a jockeys’ assistance program, which provided support for riders, and a career benefits fund.
“The biggest quality of all the qualities Neville possesses is simple, great, plain common sense and sensible logic,” he said.
O’Keefe said Wilson’s win in the 2008 Wangoom Handicap aboard the Geoff Daffy-trained Lancet was his favourite memory of the hoop at the track.
Daffy also added his voice to those celebrating Wilson’s career.
“You’ve got to realise we were both at school together. A lot of similar things have happened in our lives,” he said. “Our fathers both died in the same year, both of heart disease at a very young age. And both our mothers came from iconic, large district families. We had a lot in common.”
Daffy said he and Wilson enjoyed success with Man of Rank, Vena, Skipton Town and Gavel early in their 40-year partnership.
He said Lancet’s win in the Wangoom Handicap at long odds was a highlight “because we were both getting to the end of our tenures”.
“To do that, of course it was a highlight. But we’ve had other highlights,” he said.
Daffy said Wilson had applied for his trainer’s licence and would join Daffy as an assistant trainer in his riding retirement.