Remembering champion jockey Venice Richards

Last Monday, we got the sad news that Venice Richards, one of Barbados’ best jockeys ever to grace the tracks in the Caribbean and beyond, died at his home in Trinidad and Tobago at the age of 76.

Venice or ‘Pappy’, as he was affectionately known, was born on November 13, 1944.

As a very young boy attending Wesley Hall Junior School he showed no interest whatsoever in horse racing, but this quickly changed when he attended the Louis Lynch Modern High School.

On afternoons after he got home from school, he would hang out with the fellows, and most of them were jockeys or exercise lads, who included Johnny Belle, Byron Clarke, and Mal Lewis, who used to come over
from Trinidad to ride here. Understandably, the topic was always something to do with horse racing, so it was at this time he got interested in the sport and started going to the Garrison to watch races on Saturdays.

At around 13 years old, Venice heard that a group of guys were going up by the late Bertie Proverbs in Flint Hall to cut grass for his horses in return for a ride on one of them, so one day he decided to join the fellows.

That first day was disappointing, as he went in his school pants and Mr. Proverbs sent him back home, telling him he could not ride unless he wore jeans. In a flash Venice got a pair jeans as he was longing to get a ride on a horse.

At this stage Venice was weighing only 85 pounds, and one afternoon Mr. Proverbs called him and told him that due to his small size he would not have to cut grass, but he could still continue to ride. Seeing the potential in the young lad, he then invited him one Saturday to come to the races with him and his grandchildren, and from there the die was cast.

Venice got his jockey’s licence in 1961 and was apprenticed to the Goddard Stable, where he exercised the horses as well as assisted with the grooming of them. However, it was Norman Ellis who gave him his first ride on February 17, 1962, during the Barbados Turf (BTC) Spring Meeting, on a horse named Forest Wood, owned by Beryl Harte. He did not place in that race, but by the end of the meeting he had placed on Spinning Home, Bimshire, Coral Island and Snap Dragon.

Venice then ventured to Trinidad for the Union Park Easter Meeting, and by chance picked up the ride on the Barbadian-owned gelding More Haste when Smirkie Blades could not catch the weight, and it turned out to be his first winner at 33/1 odds.

It was November 2, 1963 when he won his first race in Barbados on the Pat Fletcher trained Lucomo, beating Rising Star with Roy Padmore in the saddle.

Venice’s association continued with the Goddards until 1970. At that same time he was riding second call for Colt Durant in Trinidad where he had already won three jockey titles and had won many Classic races in both Trinidad and Barbados.

It was at this time that he decided to to move to the United States.

He made his base in Boston, and rode the whole of 1971 and a good part of 1972 in the USA at New England tracks of Lincoln Downs, Rockingham Park, Suffolk Downs and Finger Lake Racetrack, where he was quite successful – landing 85 winners – before getting a call from Colt Durant, champion trainer in Trinidad, asking him to return to Trinidad to ride first call for his stable as Chally Jones was leaving to ride for trainer Joe Hadeed.

The relationship between Venice and Colt proved to be a very fruitful one, with many feature and classic wins, as well as a strong hold on the Trinidad Jockey Championship from 1973 through to 1977 and
again in 1981. He had won his first jockey championship in Trinidad back in 1968, and repeated in 1969 and 1970, and again from 1973 to 1977, and again in 1981.

He has won the jockey championship at every track in Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and Guyana, where he won five races on a six race card, and lost the final race by a nose. He has won every major race in these countries on numerous occasions. He has also ridden with success in the USA, Puerto Rico, Panama, Venezuela and Martinique.

Two of his favourite horses were Quain and the creole Blueprint.

When questioned as to how he managed his weight so well, he would always tell the youngsters that as a professional you have to be disciplined, which means working hard and eating the right food.

Outside of racing he liked basketball and football. He also liked playing pool and reading, especially about racehorses.

He was awarded the Silver Crown of Merit in 1991 by the Barbados Government. He was also inducted into both the Racing Hall of Fame in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

Venice was a very quiet, soft spoken gentleman.

The Barbados Advocate offers condolences to his family. (CH)

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