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Bill Duncan: Australian Champion Jockey

Bill Duncan: Australian Champion Jockey

Bill Duncan, a career best with 893 wins which included major feature races including two Melbourne Cups and Caulfield Cups, major handicaps, and weight for age races. His 11 premiership titles stood as a record only to be equaled by Roy Higgins.

Bill Duncan was one of Australia’s champion jockeys during the inter-war period. Born in 1900, Duncan was a natural lightweight, apprenticing in 1916 where he rode his first winner in a race at Mentone. 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 he went into the Melbourne Cup for the first time in 1918. He was picked to ride the Richard Bradfield-trained Night Watch since there were few riders who could make Night Watch’s weight of 42.18 kg. The 1918 Cup was the fifth and last Cup run during World War I. Duncan steered Night Watch to victory in a time of 3:25.75, followed by Kennaquhair in second place, and Gadabout in third.

Duncan’s other memorable victory was in the Caulfield Cup in the spring of 1925, steering the 7-1 second favourite, to win by 2 ½ lengths, the first of his two cup wins. He also won a Sydney Cup, and numerous other weight-for-age events. A favourite on the 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 steering Manfred to victory despite being left 100 metres at the barrier. Duncan was also a VRC Derby winner.

Duncan’s last race was to be the 1932 Melbourne Cup on Peter Pan, the crowd’s favourite from the start. In a fast paced race, Duncan made a move to steer Peter Pan through a gap while the horses closed in. However, the horse was bumped but was saved from stumbling head first after receiving a knock from stable mate Denis Boy. Peter Pan then regained balance and stormed home to win by a neck. Soon after, a serious fall from Rose Valais forced Duncan into retirement in 1933 to finish with 893 winners. 74 of his wins were in stakes races while the rest were from numerous major 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 an induction into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Duncan’s record of 11 premiership titles was equalled by Roy Higgins. However, Duncan’s first premierships were only counted since the time official records were kept.