Des Wyatt never achieved champion status as a jockey, however after his recent passing he is being fondly remembered as one of the gentlemen of the jockeys’ room during an era of great riders.
Wyatt was farewelled in Auckland last week following his death at age 95. During a career that began in 1946 and ended with a win on his final raceday mount in 1978, he rode 584 winners in New Zealand as well as a handful in Australia.
One of those in the latter group came on the leading 1976-77 three-year-old Silver Lad, on which he had won the New Zealand and Wellington Derbys, Clifford Plate and Rotorua Challenge Stakes before adding the Australasian Championship Stakes at the Sydney autumn carnival.
Whangarei-born Wyatt was by then in the twilight of a career that had centred for more than three decades on the Auckland Racing Club’s Takanini training centre.
Major early wins included the 1956 Jubilee Wellington Cup on Fox Myth, the 1960 Great Northern Oaks on Summer Sari and the following year’s New Zealand Oaks on Challen, and the 1961 Clifford Plate on Lord Sasanof.
On the same horse he won the first of three consecutive editions of the Thames Valley Stakes, followed in 1962 and 1963 on Key and Fencourt, as well as adding another on Honestly in 1966.
Into the next decade, Wyatt’s successes included the 1976 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes on Pheroz Jewel, coinciding with the emergence of the horse that was to define his career, the classy colt Silver Lad.
Wyatt rode for only another year after Silver Lad’s retirement and at age 50 he brought the curtain down on his career in the best possible way when riding Ric Rossato to victory at Matamata on May 1, 1978.
He was then employed as course manager of the Takanini training tracks that had played such a part in his life before enjoying a long retirement.
“Dessie was a proper gentleman, always obliging and someone who got on well with everyone,” commented one of his long-time colleagues and friends, Hall of Fame jockey David Peake.
“He was older than me, he began in the era of a lot of very good jockeys – Grenville (Hughes), Wally Hooton, Jack Mudford, Norm Holland, to name just some of those in the north – who were all seniors to me.
“He was a very fair rider and if he was on the right horse, he gave no quarter.
“I still remember the time he just beat me in a race on the big jackpot day at Matamata back in the early ’70s – as he got up on the line he looked across with that big grin of his and yelled out ‘Gotcha!’”