Noel Riordan, best remembered as the only jockey able to get the best out of champion stayer Il Tempo, died on Tuesday morning, aged 84.
Riordan, a quietly spoken, humble man, maintained his interest in horse racing throughout his adult life and passed away at Country Lodge, Matamata.
Riordan’s father died when he was four and he was one of 10 children brought up by their mother. At the age of 13 he and his brothers, Des (then 15) and John (11) left their New Plymouth home in 1948 to sign on as apprentice jockeys with Te Awamutu trainer, Jack McDonald, who later prepared the NZ Racing Hall of Fame inductee Mainbrace.
Riordan kicked home his first winner, Bright Morn, on April 4, 1953 and, after completing his apprenticeship with McDonald, he left Te Awamutu and headed to Matamata, where he continued his riding career, both over fences and on the flat, and lived for the rest of his life.
It was a time when rides were scarce for Riordan and he regularly spread the net for opportunities by driving to Te Awamutu, Cambridge and Te Rapa to also ride trackwork. He gained support from Te Rapa trainer Bill Winder and it was one morning when heading over to ride his budding star three-year-old Peterman in trackwork that Riordan was asked to climb aboard Il Tempo for the first time and, as helpful as usual, he duly obliged.
“Il Tempo hadn’t shown much then and they were going to finish with him, but that morning Noel rode him he produced his best gallop,” Riordan’s brother, Des, said. “That was the start of a great association. Noel was the only rider to ever win on him. He wouldn’t go for anyone else.”
Prepared by Bruce Priscott (father of prominent Te Awamutu trainer Robert Priscott), Il Tempo went on to become arguably the greatest two-miler (3200m) New Zealand has produced.
The remarkable affinity between Riordan and Il Tempo saw the pair combine to win four times over two miles, landing Auckland Cups, a Wellington Cup and a Chalmers Handicap at Trentham. And Riordan was always adamant he should have won a further Auckland Cup and Wellington Cup.
When registering his second Auckland Cup win in 1970, Il Tempo became the first horse to win the race in successive years since Cheval de Volce in 1938-39, then when completing the Auckland – Wellington Cup double a month later he shattered the two-mile world record.
Il Tempo was taken to Australia for the 1970 Melbourne Cup and after an encouraging Australian debut he was installed favourite, but missed the feature through a tendon injury. Riordan always regretted that Il Tempo “never got to show the Aussies how good he was.”
Riordan did, however, get to ride in a Melbourne Cup, heading over to ride the outsider Lucky Strike for Winder.
“The horse had no chance and the owner wanted him in front with a round to go,” recalled his brother. “Noel had him in front and he had the photo to show him leading the Melbourne Cup field past the winning post.”
Riordan also got the call-up to ride in Sydney and after riding a few winners he was asked to stay, but his everlasting devotion to his wife, Marlene, and young family saw him turn the offer down and return to Matamata.
Riordan also enjoyed much success with Peterman, whose wins included the 1965 Gr.1 Great Northern Derby (2400m), the first running of the Gr.2 Wellington Derby in 1966, the 1966 Gr.3 King’s Plate (1600m) and Gr.3 Trentham Stakes (2400m).
Riordan’s list of feature race winners also included Evenstead (Easter Handicap,1600m), Dandeinee and Fairfleet, top winters gallopers Captain Jest (Listed Cornwall Handicap (2000m) and Oakville Lad (Listed Founders Plate and Listed Winter Oats), as well as the Gr.3 Avondale Cup (2200m) on Tardini and 1970 Telegraph Handicap (1200m) on Grizzly, who were both trained by his brother, Des.
“I’ll never forget the day he won the Wellington Cup on Il Tempo because he got the double that day with the Telegraph Handicap on Grizzly for me,” his brother said. “We had so many great times. We were more than brothers, John, Noel and I, we were the best of mates and we always kept in touch. I’ll miss him so much.”
Riordan rode 357 winners in New Zealand and during a training stint he prepared 24 winners from a small team. His best performers were Cashmere Lass, who won four races and was third in the 1982 Gr.2 Great Northern Oaks (2400m) and Pop’s Girl (four wins).
After his training and riding days were over, Riordan proved a valuable help for his close friend, Matamata trainer Bill Ford, and later for nine years he assisted top trainers Dave and Paul O’Sullivan.
During his retirement, Riordan enjoyed his outdoor bowls and proved a valuable lead. Later when suffering hip problems and having to give up bowls, he always keenly followed his lifelong passion, horse racing.
A funeral service will be held for Noel Riordan at the Holy Angels Catholic Church in Matamata on Wednesday, August 7 at 11am. The family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the General Trust Fund for Injured Jockeys. - NZ Racing Desk