It’s 3am. The moon is still up but the day has already begun for retired jockey Jimmy Cassidy who is feeding and grooming his horses ahead of typical track day.
Rumours have spread across the racing industry that the legend is making a comeback after his near-death car accident in Arcadia in Sydney’s north-west in 2019.
“Some people find God, but I might have found racing again,” he says.
It turns out the rumours are true. But the man they call Pumper is not getting back in the saddle; instead, he’s turning his well-known racing abilities to horse-training.
Cassidy has been working full-time for the Lee Brothers at the Randwick stables in Sydney.
Owners Greg and Jim Lee say they have been trying to get him to join them as a training partner for years.
“Jimmy is one of the best trainers the industry will ever find,’’ Greg Lee says.
He is an [even] better trainer than jockey, and he would be mad if he doesn’t come back to train.’’
Cassidy is now getting up at 1am, six days a week: “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”
The 58-year-old Racing Hall of Fame Legend has always had the will to win.
Before hanging up his boots, he had made history. His career highlights included 104 group wins and being named a Hall of Famer in both Australia and New Zealand.
He has overcome the most challenging times, including suffering critical injuries in a head-on crash, and being sidelined over the “Jockey Tapes” race-fixing scandal of 1995, which saw him banned for almost two years.
Cassidy talks about his childhood and how he became a professional jockey.
“Mum and Dad used to go to the races most Saturdays as soon as my seven siblings and I finished our sport, mine being rugby,” he explains.
“I grew to have a huge passion for horses, and that feeling never left me.
“I had an apprenticeship from the time I was 16. I got up, went to the stables, worked on the horses, went to school, and went back to the stables.
I think I fell asleep some nights laying in the hay with the horses. I wasn’t just dedicated but committed.
Racing wasn’t his only sporting passion. Pumper also represented his native New Zealand in rugby.
“I stopped going to school. I dropped out. It just didn’t interest me… I put all my cards on horses and having a career with them.
“I was lucky Mum and Dad backed me all the way. It made me [realise] family is everything.’’
Cassidy’s second daughter Sarsha, 32, describes her father as a hard-working, respectful man: “not only at work but at home with his family and his friends.”
“He puts so much passion into everything he does. I believe he exerts himself mentally and physically. [He] works hard for something he believes in, something he planned for, which leads him to happiness, success, and well-being.”
Cassidy says he reached a point where family came first.
’Family is everything in all walks of life,” he says. “Particularly in racing. You become so dedicated that you miss birthdays, Christmases, Father’s Day, and other vital milestones your family celebrates.
” I never got to enjoy celebrations because I was either riding, having meetings or training.’’
“I’ll never make up for how much I missed, but I will always be there now.’’
“He’s become an actual “dance Dad”, wife Vicki says, in reference to their youngest daughter, Piper.
Cassidy’s two other daughters followed in his footsteps. Oldest, Nicole, married Australian jockey Zac Purton and is now a mother of two.
Sarsha and her partner Phil are expecting their first child.
“One more to adore,” Cassidy adds, “and every troublemaker needs a partner in crime. I’m so excited for this family to grow.’’
While life away from the track is a priority, Cassidy is still in demand as a guest speaker at sporting and corporate events.
”My experiences have been amazing,” he says. “I have travelled, met the children of Indigenous communities in Alice Springs and signed as a tour ambassador for Lexus.’’
Returning to work as a trainer with the Lee Brothers will show the industry he still has what it takes behind the scenes.
“Jim has touched the hearts of so many people,” Greg Lee says. “But he has [also] touched the lives of so many horses.”
“I’m just poking along for now, seeing where life takes me,” Cassidy adds. “I just love learning and pursuing my passion [and] having Greg and Jim Lee to guide me is humbling.’’
Cassidy has several mottos he consistently shares with family and friends.
“You can always find the way back; no matter how far down you get, you can climb that ladder again. Never say never.”