It’s all a bit of a mystery, really.
Not the question about whether or not elephants strode down Victoria Ave during the swinging 60s – they did – but the question of how on earth diminutive jockey Garry Edge managed to stay on top of the lumbering giant.
But stay on top he did. Not only did he remain in situ, albeit in a rather wobbly fashion, but he also steered his charge to a ‘‘half length’’ win in a three-elephant race down Victoria St that ended up raising money for Leamington Kindergarten.
The third steed, a 75-year-old pachyderm ridden by Bob Ellis, trailed at the rear for most of the race.
A Cambridge man all his life, and by then well established as one of the country’s top jockeys, Garry remembers the May 1965 race clearly.
‘‘I enjoyed something of celebrity status at the time. I was picked to ride Jody, and Frank O’Kane – who was a top rugby player at the time – got the bigger elephant, Lena. He was lucky; Lena had some sort of headgear, so Frank was able to hang on to that.
‘‘I had nothing like that with Jody. She was going side to side like nothing else. I told the handler I was finding it hard to hang on and he said ‘you’re supposed to be a jockey – you know what to do’,’’ Garry told the Cambridge Edition last week, from the comfort of his St Kilda homestead.
‘‘Well, I made it with almost nothing to spare. If I’d had to go any further, I’d have fallen off,’’ he laughed.
The ride wasn’t that rare, apparently. Cole Bros Circus was in town, and exercising the elephants in the public domain was something they did, presumably as something of an event advertiser.
According to a report published in the then Waikato Independent, the elephants entered the town from where they were being housed in Leamington via the high level bridge.
However, this had ‘‘raised the ire of the city fathers, it being contended they were heavy traffic’’, said the report. As a result, they were marched back to Leamington, linked trunk to tail, by way of the Ferguson St Bridge.
But, back to the race for a moment.
Garry recalls the trio setting off at the Cambridge Museum end of Victoria St, and heading up towards what is now the second roundabout in the street.
Sporting the well-known racing colours of ‘‘Messrs D and R Douglas of Clarendon and Claroch fame’’, he remembers having to give Jody a couple of kicks with his heels to inspire more speed but ‘‘it didn’t make any difference’’.
‘‘Then I sang out to the circus boy running beside us and asked him if he could make her go faster.
‘‘He gave a strange yell in her ear and off she went. It was the hardest ride I have ever had.’’
So Garry notched up another win, this one by about half a length – an elephant length, in this case.
He’s never ridden an elephant since.
Garry did the ride at the height of a very successful 41-year career as one of the country’s top jockeys.
The local lad who started his riding apprenticeship in Cambridge at 14, has ridden an impressive 743 winners – not including the elephant race down Victoria St that succeeded in raising £34 for a needy kindergarten.
- © Fairfax NZ News