IN Racing
Vale Garry Edge
Garry Edge never won a jockeys’ premiership, but he will be remembered as one of the very best during an era of great New Zealand jockeys.
Dennis Ryan, RaceForm | June 07, 2024
Garry Edge flanked by two other past stalwarts of Waikato racing, Melbourne Cup-winning owner-trainers Trevor Knowles and Roy Robinson. Photo: Trish Dunell

Garry Edge never won a jockeys’ premiership, but he will be remembered as one of the very best during an era of great New Zealand jockeys.

Edge, who passed away last week in his hometown of Cambridge aged 84, rode 740 New Zealand winners during a career that began in the 1954-55 season. He was associated with many of the country’s most notable gallopers through the 1960s and ’70s and will forever be aligned with the mighty front-runner Jan’s Beau. On top of his New Zealand list, Edge’s wins across the Tasman included the Australian Cup on that horse as well as the South Australian St Leger on Vice Regal.

Apprenticed to highly respected trainer Wallace Townsend, his first win came on the talented stable member Sweet Wren. That name remained integral to Edge’s life well after his retirement from the saddle in 1995, through his Cambridge agistment property, Sweet Wren Lodge.

The closest Edge came to winning a premiership was fourth placings with 41 and 53 wins respectively in the 1962-63 and 1965-66 seasons, both times behind the dominant pairing of Bob and Bill Skelton and that master tactician Grenville Hughes.

Edge was also renowned for his tactical expertise, particularly with horses racing on the pace. In that context, one of my first memories when I entered the racing industry in the early 1970s were the words of my employer, Frank Wilson.

“You watch this bloke, he’s a bloody genius on a front-runner,” he said in his assertive manner. “Of all the jockeys riding, Edge has the best clock in his head.”

I took note and soon came to realise what the boss meant. On numerous occasions “that clock” meant the difference between winning or losing, and no better example was the 1973 Avondale Gold Cup.

Back then the Avondale Cup, contested in November, was considered the country’s most consistently competitive middle-distance handicap race, and the 1973 edition was no exception, attracting a limit field of 20. Jan’s Beau was the topweight with 57 kilograms off a 49-kilo minimum, well-earned with a record of winning open races from 1200 to 2200m as a three-year-old, and as an older horse adding numerous others, including the Australian Cup, Coongy Handicap and Feehan Stakes in Melbourne.

Edge knew what he had to do in that Avondale Cup – control the race from the front and give nothing else a look in. The key to that was maintaining a strong tempo to ensure no other jockey was prepared to take him on, and the plan worked perfectly.

At the 600m mark he still had control and when Jan’s Beau railed for the run to the line, none of his rivals looked like overhauling him. The closest any got was Kiwi Can, but he was still two and a half lengths away, and the time of 2:12.8 – a New Zealand record for 2200m – told its own story.

I still remember the words of the man with the clock in his head when I caught up with him afterwards in the jockeys’ room. “Everything had gone to plan and when I got to the 600, I said to myself ‘If they leave me alone for another hundred, I’ve got them’. There’s nothing so good as getting it spot-on.”

That was one of 20 wins Edge conjured on the pride of Northland, while his overall list of big wins included an almost disproportionate number of features at northern headquarters: three editions of each of Ellerslie’s ‘Great Northern’ three-year-old features, the Guineas, Derby, Oaks and St Leger, as well as the Ellerslie Sires’ Produce Stakes, Clifford Plate and King’s Plate three times, the Railway and Easter Handicap twice.

He also rode one Auckland Cup winner, Senor in 1964, owned and trained by Matangi farmer Ivan Robinson, who also provided two of the best he rode later that decade, Piko and Bardall.

After retiring from the saddle, Edge remained a regular racegoer, which included being involved in the ownership of horses such as the Chris Wood-trained Wooden Edge (no prizes for guessing the origins of the name) and current performer Waihi Warrior, who finished third at Cambridge the day after his part-owner’s death.

The greeting when you crossed paths with him was invariably “How’re you goin’ old son?” complete with that beaming smile, and he enjoyed nothing more than reminiscing on what he and others from his era referred to as the ‘good old days’.

Chatting with him one day at the races, I mentioned his Ellerslie feature race tally and his response was as modest as ever. “Those races were always the ones you wanted to win, and I suppose I was just lucky with all the good horses I got on. You didn’t always win, but it was great to be going into a big race knowing you were a chance.”

Amongst those with first-hand recall of Garry Edge the jockey is fellow Cambridge identity Ron Taylor, just a few months his junior and likewise the rider of 700-odd winners. His list included the 1964 Melbourne Cup on Polo Prince, who 10 months earlier had finished second to Senor in the Auckland Cup.

“We never kept count of how many times we beat each other, but Edgey was always good to ride against,” Taylor recalled. “He was one of the best, you knew he’d be in the right place in the running and looking out for him he was easy to spot with that head of his nodding away.  

“We were good mates over the years and enjoyed playing tricks on each other. The one I remember most involved his pride and joy, this beautiful Chrysler Valiant he owned for years. I put an advert in the cars for sale classifieds in the Waikato Times and the phone calls drove him crazy! He never let me forget that.

“He was a very organised sort of person. His agistment farm was a showpiece, the way he ran it and kept everything so spotless. I used to tell him with all those white rails he must own a paint shop.

“We would phone each other every week or 10 days and it was always good to catch up with him. There’s not many of us left now; he was one of the good guys and I’m going to miss him.”

*A gathering to remember Garry Edge is scheduled for 1pm on Sunday June 16 at the Cambridge Raceway.