- Oliver’s father and brother were both killed in falls
- Retiring star suffered a broken spine in 2005
- Oliver will ride his final Melbourne Cup next week
Australian racing great Damien Oliver has opened up about why he refused to quit the sport after it killed both his brother and father and left him with two broken vertebrae after a horror fall.
Oliver, 51, has won three Melbourne Cups (Doriemus, 1995), (Media Puzzle, 2002) and (Fiorente, 2013) as well as four Caulfield Cups, two Cox Plates and a Golden Slipper, achieving a rare ‘Grand Slam’ in the sport of kings.
He will forever be remembered as possibly the nation’s greatest ever rider, but the journey to the top has been gruelling.
The 51-year-old’s father Ray had a successful riding career of his own, but was killed in a 1975 race fall in Western Australia when Oliver was just a toddler.
Oliver was hit by a second tragedy in 2002 when his brother Jason also died in a race fall in Western Australia.
Damien Oliver has spoken about losing his father and brother to the sport he loves
Oliver’s brother Jason (pictured left with Oliver) tragically died in a race fall in Western Australia in 2002
The tragic accident occurred just days before the 2002 Melbourne Cup, which Oliver astonishingly won on Irish stayer Media Puzzle.
In one of the most memorable moments in Aussie sporting history, Oliver blew a kiss to his late brother after he crossed the line.
‘You just couldn’t script that sort of thing,’ Oliver told Nine’s The Heart of Racing podcast of the incredible win.
‘It was really a sad time for me firstly, losing your brother, and that’s my main memory of it, more so the sadness of losing my brother rather than winning the Cup.
‘That was a tribute to him and something I’m glad I was able to pull off, particularly looking back on it now. At the time it was full of sadness, losing him in that week leading up to the Cup.’
In 2005, Oliver had his own brush with death, falling from his horse at Moonee Valley and suffering a broken spine and a prolonged period out of the saddle.
‘If you look at the parallels that my father was killed in his early 30s, my brother similar, early 30s. I actually had a really bad fall at Moonee Valley and broke my back at a similar age, so all in our early 30s,’ he told the podcast.
‘You couldn’t think that something like that could happen.
Oliver blew a kiss to his brother Jason after winning the Melbourne Cup in 2002 in one of Aussie racing’s most iconic images
Oliver’s dad Ray also forged a successful career as a jockey but was killed in a race fall when the champion jockey was just a toddler
‘You know it’s a dangerous sport when you go into it. Not many sports have an ambulance follow them around the track.
‘But there’s great rewards, and there’s great comraderies among the jockeys as well, and you know the risks when you go into it.
‘Fortunately, touch wood, I’ve been able to get through it OK.’
Next week Oliver, who is retiring in December, will have the chance to win a fourth Melbourne Cup when he rides Alenquer in the iconic race that stops a nation.