The late Greville Starkey, who died of cancer, aged 70, on April 14, 2010, rode 1,989 winners, including five British Classic winners, on British soil, in a riding career lasting nearly 35 years. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a working-class family, Starkey became apprenticed to Newmarket trainer Harry Thompson ‘Tom’ Jones straight from school and rode his first winner, Russian Gold, at Pontefract on June 9, 1956. The following season he became champion apprentice with 45 winners.
Starkey won his first British Classic, the Oaks, on Homeward Bound, trained by John Oxley, in 1964 and, in 1978, completed a notable ‘double-double’ by winning the Oaks and Irish Oaks on Fair Salinia, trained by Michael Stoute, and the Derby and Irish Derby on Shirley Heights, trained by John Dunlop. He also won the 2,000 Guineas twice, on To-Agori-Mou in 1981 and Dancing Brave in 1986, both trained by Guy Harwood, to whom he had become stable jockey in 1975. Indeed, it was in 1975 that recorded his biggest victory abroad, partnering 119/1 apparent no-hoper Star Appeal to victory over a huge field, which included the likes of Dahlia and Allez France, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.
In an era dominated by Lester Piggott, Willie Carson and Pat Eddery, Starkey was never champion jockey, although he did ride over a hundred winners in a season four times in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Sadly, though, he will always be remembered for the one race he probably should have won, the 1986 Derby, aboard Dancing Brave. In a race run at a muddling pace, Starkey adopted exaggerated waiting tactics and, although Dancing Brave made up ground hand over fist in the final quarter of a mile, the hot favourite failed to overhaul Shahrastani in the closing stages and was beaten half a length. Starkey was pilloried by the press for having ridden an ill-judged race, thereby setting Dancing Brave an impossible task, and the defeat was to haunt him for the rest of his riding career, and beyond.