IN Our People
Des Riordan’s passing marks the end of a dynasty
A New Zealand racing dynasty has come to an end with the death last Sunday of popular Te Awamutu identity Des Riordan.
NZ Racing Desk | March 10, 2022
John (left) pictured with Des and Noel Riordan.

A New Zealand racing dynasty has come to an end with the death last Sunday of popular Te Awamutu identity Des Riordan just weeks short of his 90th birthday.

At age 15, Des and his younger brothers Noel (13) and John (11) left their New Plymouth home to take up jockey apprenticeships in Te Awamutu with Jack McDonald, who was to gain fame as the trainer of champion colt Mainbrace. 

The Riordan brothers went on to ride a combined total of 956 winners, with 570 of those credited to John, who passed away last year at age 85. 

The standout in John’s catalogue was the Ray Cotter-trained Summer Regent, on which he won the 1963 W S Cox Plate, while his name will always be associated with Sailing Home, the champion stayer of the early 1970s who he partnered to victory in the Auckland Cup, Stars Travel Invitation Stakes and Trentham Stakes.

Noel Riordan’s name will stand forever alongside another great stayer, Il Tempo. He was the only jockey to  win on the Bruce Priscott-owned and trained gelding with a list headed by four two-mile (3200m) races – the 1969 and 1970 Auckland Cups as well as the Wellington Cup and the Chalmers Handicap. 

Noel, who passed away at age 84 in 2019, rode 357 winners, while his older brother’s career in the saddle came to an early end due to increasing weight with 29 wins on his card.

Des’s talents weren’t wasted however, when he turned to training and produced a string of feature winners ranging from two-year-olds to sprinters and stayers. 

Maitland became champion juvenile in the 1962-63 season with wins that included the Welcome Stakes and Great Northern Foal Stakes at Ellerslie.

Tardini was another early star, winning the 1964 Avondale Cup with Noel in the saddle by a nose from John’s mount My Contact.  

Another champion two-year-old under Riordan’s training was Mannix, who won the Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes, Eclipse Stakes and Great Northern Champagne Stakes in 1967-68. 

The classy colt continued that dominance as a spring three-year-old, only to break down when winning the Wellington Guineas, then making an all-too-brief comeback to add the 1970 King’s Plate at Ellerslie.

Nothing pleased Riordan more than sharing his wins with his brothers, no better example the high class sprinter-miler Grizzly. On the final day of the 1969-70 Ellerslie Christmas-New Year carnival, John partnered Grizzly in his George Adams Mile win.

Later that month it was Noel’s turn as he completed a memorable day by adding the Wellington Cup to Il Tempo’s two Auckland Cups and then rode Grizzly to victory in the Telegraph Handicap.

The Riordan brothers’ mother Agnes was widowed in the mid-1930s, leaving her to rear 10 children. She later moved north with two of her daughters to Te Awamutu, and Des, who never married, became their devoted provider.

“Des was so kind-hearted to all of his family and a lot of friends as well,” his sister-in-law Marlene Riordan recalled. “He took such good care of his mother and also his sisters as they grew older.

“Without fail, every fortnight he would drive over to Matamata to visit Noel and pick up their old mate Alf Kneebone on the way through Cambridge. 

“They were such good times as they shared all the old stories over lunch. With Des now gone, it really is the end of an era.

“Noel always said that if it hadn’t been for his weight, Des would have been the best jockey of all three of them, but he still got to prove what a good horseman he was with the winners he trained.”

Des Riordan’s funeral is scheduled for 11.30am Friday, however due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance will be by invitation only.

Des Riordan Jack McDonald Mainbrace Summer Regent Sailing Home Il Tempo Tardini Mannix Grizzly Gr.3 NZ Campus Of Innovation & Sport Wellington Cup