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Bill Duncan: Australian Champion Jockey
Bill Duncan, a career best of 893 wins which included major feature races including two Melbourne Cups and Caulfield Cups, major handicaps and weight-for-age races. His 11 premierships became a record, equaled only by Roy Higgins.
Bill Duncan was one of Australia’s champion jockeys during the interwar period. Born in 1900, Duncan was a natural lightweight, learning in 1916 where he rode his first winner at Menton. At the age of 18, he won his first major race in 1918, the Coongy Handicap. Nicknamed ‘Little Billy’, he weighed under seven stone when first entered in the Melbourne Cup in 1918. He was selected to ride the Richard Bradfield-trained Night Watch as there were few riders who could top Night Watch at 42.18. kg. The 1918 Cup was the fifth and final cup run during the First World War. Duncan led Night Watch to victory in 3:25.75, followed by Kennaquhair in second and Gadabout in third.
Duncan’s next memorable victory was in the Caulfield Cup in the spring of 1925 when he drove the 7-1 second favorite to win by 2 ½ lengths, the first of his two Cup victories. He also won the Sydney Cup and a number of other weight-for-age events. A favorite on Melbourne tracks, Duncan won 11 Melbourne Jockeys’ Premiership titles, including one as an apprentice. The 1925 AJC Derby was a race in which he showed his exemplary skills to guide Manfred to victory despite leaving him 100 meters from the barrier. Duncan was also the winner of the VRC Derby.
Duncan’s last race was to be the 1932 Melbourne Cup on Peter Pan, who had been a crowd favorite from the start. At a fast gallop, Duncan made a move to lead Peter Pan through the gap as the horses approached. However, the horse was bumped but was saved from stumbling head first after receiving a tap from stablemate Denis Boye. Peter Pan then regained his balance and stormed home to win by a neck. Soon after, a serious crash from Rose Valais forced Duncan to retire in 1933 to finish with 893 winners. 74 of his wins were in stakes races, while the remainder came from many large handicaps and weight-for-age races.
After his retirement, Duncan served on the committee of the Fitzroy Football Club from 1952 – 1955. His achievements were recognized with induction into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Duncan’s record of 11 premierships was equaled by Roy Higgins. However, Duncan’s first starts were only counted since official records were kept.
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