WAYNE Harris is the toast of Muswellbrook today after the legendary jockey was named in the inaugural Newcastle & Hunter Racing Hall of Fame on Wednesday night.
The famous local hoop joined fellow rider Robert Thompson in the prestigious line-up, which also included associates Alf Ellison, Billy Hill, trainers Paul Perry, Max Lees and gallopers Rogilla and Luskin Star.
In a stellar, but shortened career, Harris enjoyed 31 Group 1 wins in Australia and overseas, including the 1979 Golden Slipper Stakes, 1985 and 1989 Champagne Stakes, 1990 Blue Diamond Stakes, 1994 Caulfield Guineas and 1995 VRC Newmarket.
However, his biggest triumph came on board Jeune in the 1994 Melbourne Cup.
“I’m thrilled and proud,” Harris told the Chronicle.
“Robert [Thompson] was a given, but I was stoked to hear my name, too.
“It’s very humbling to be honoured in this way.
“My life has certainly been a roller-coaster.”
Apprenticed to leading Muswellbrook trainer Pat Farrell, Harris was the first “novice” to win the Golden Slipper when he guided Century Miss to victory for the renowned Bart Cummings in 1979.
He also rode 558 winners as an apprentice – a record which still stands.
“Pat was a tough boss; he worked me hard,” Harris said.
“But, I broke every milestone, so he must have known something.
“I got my maiden win on Duke of Westpoint, at Muswellbrook, in 1976 [I’d been with Pat for the two years prior].
“Then capturing the Golden Slipper as an 18-year-old, in 1979, was pretty special.
“I think I was too young to appreciate that feat.
“It’s only when you sit down, and reflect, at the end of your career, that you understand the magnitude of those results.”
Harris, who was made a life member of the Muswellbrook Race Club in 2009, prides himself on two unique accomplishments.
“Winning three Sydney apprenticeship titles is definitely a highlight,” he said.
“As is my Melbourne Cup triumph.
“It does change your life – you become part of history and your name is there forever.
“Unfortunately, I retired the year after that  due to ill-health.
“That was extremely disappointing.
“Since then, I’ve undergone 11 spinal operations and twice beaten a life-threatening brain tumour.”
Muswellbrook Race Club general manager Duane Dowell also offered his congratulations.
“Wayne’s inclusion in the Newcastle & Hunter Racing Hall of Fame is great recognition for one of the most talented jockeys to ever ride,” he said.
“I congratulate him on this fantastic achievement.
“I remember being at Muswellbrook races the day he won the Melbourne Cup on Jeune in 1994.
“I reckon nearly everyone on course backed him that day.”
Hall of Fame chairman Brian Judd said he was thrilled with the inaugural event that shone the light on the region’s rich racing history and heritage.
“The awards have been launched to recognise the extraordinary contribution of these associates, trainers, jockeys and racehorses to the Newcastle and Hunter region or the wider Australian thoroughbred industry,” he said.
“Our eight inductees are all true champions and will have a permanent plaque dedicated to them in the soon-to-be-designed Hall of Fame Garden at Newcastle Racecourse.
“Not only is this concept the brainchild of industry stalwart Gary Harley, but he remains a driving force in bringing it to life, and joined other selection panel members in presenting the awards to inductees.”