I know everybody and his dog has written tributes to Ricky May, and so they should have, but I feel it’s appropriate for this website to contribute also, as the man from Methven is probably the epitome of what our game is all about.
On the track, no quarter given and none expected. Off the track, personable, modest, hardworking, and always willing to help and advise or, if he disagreed strongly with something, keen to voice an opinion. Instead of going over his magnificent career, I’d like to share my varied experiences with Ricky in an attempt to illustrate some of those attributes.
When I attended that race meeting at Orari in 1977 and witnessed a young fellow won his first race on Ruling River, no-one had any idea what was about to unfold. Yes, he was a promising junior (I think they were called ‘probationary’ then) driver, with a surname that was familiar, given the deeds of his grandfather, father and uncles, but nothing out of the ordinary. Over the following years, Ricky became well known in his own right, earning the reputation in the earlier years as a reinsman who would habitually drive for luck, and rack up regular wins doing it.
Knowing him just to nod or say hello for the next few decades, it was, oddly enough, my involvement in amateur driving (Mr. May is not a particular fan), that caused me to have dealings with him. I recall having one of my qualifying drives for a license in a workout at Ashburton where I, to say the least, made a mess of it, and I found myself sitting parked outside Ricky and dwelling on the fact that I had just made an idiot of myself next to a guy who had won 7 New Zealand Cups! Later, when I went and rather timidly apologised for my performance, he was gracious enough to offer to help me with any advice. That’s the sort of man he is.
After that, apart from when I got growled at for mistakenly taking my horse inside the markers that were halfway out on his hallowed Methven turf in another workout we shared, we have got on well, and I am proud to say that my partner and I contributed one win to his daunting tally, on a wet day at Rangiora.
My next memorable R.T. May moment was memorable for all the wrong reasons, when my partner and I were helping out with refreshments in the driver’s room at the Omakau racecourse on that fateful day eighteen months ago. Having shared a cup of tea with him about an hour before the big race, there are aspects of that day that will remain with me for the rest of my life, from the stunned looks on faces and people wandering around in a daze, some in tears, to the attempt at comforting hugs, and the emotional applause and palpable relief when Dave McDonald, after what seemed forever, announced that Ricky was still with us. (Speaking with Dave later, he said he didn’t even hear the applause, such was his emotion state at the time). I’ve been to hundreds of race meetings but I’ve never seen anything close to that, and I hope I never will again.
Anyway, as they say, all’s well that ends well and happily I was on course and one of the first to congratulate him on his herculean achievement, so I guess I like to think I got the trifecta of Ricky May moments - along with all his New Zealand Cup wins of course.
I know it’s daft, but I couldn’t help seeing a synergy in the announcement last week that Lazarus is coming back to this Country because he apparently doesn’t like it in Australia. If ever there was a Lazarus in harness racing, surely it has to be the wee man in the gold helmet.