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  Horse Racing

Kenneth Mattis: living legend in racing

KENNETH MATTIS is a living legend in the annals of local horse racing.

He has the unique distinction of being the only racing personnel to be twice inducted into the Hall of Fame - first for his exploits as a jockey in 1986 and as trainer in 2001.

Indeed, the year 2001 was a special one for Mattis. He was not only inducted into the Hall of Fame in June, but was conferred with the National Honour, Order of Distinction (O.D.) in August.

Later that month, he saddled his 1,000th winner, L.S.C. CHOICE, to become the third trainer - behind Allan 'Billy' Williams andPhilip Feanny - to achieve the feat.

Mattis paid a rare visit to the winners' enclosure on Saturday, July 28, when posting TAKE FIVE and MISS SLOOKIE, both ridden by one of his favourite jockeys, Oneil Mullings, to win the third and sixth races, respectively.

From a high of 40 horses during his heyday, he trains only four horses today, but is not perturbed and he seldom misses a race meet at Caymanas Park. On any given raceday, he can be found in the trainers' room playing a game of dominoes with fellow trainers.

Early career

NECK AND NECK: None Such (right, ridden by Kenneth Mattis) and Touchwood (Trevor McKenzie) pass the finishing post in a dead heat in the 'A' Class six furlongs at Caymanas on Saturday in September 1966. - File

During the 1960s, Mattis established himself as one of the best jockeys never to have have won the championship. He started his riding career as an apprentice to his mentor W. 'Billy' Pick in the early '50s at Knutsford Park and ended in 1971, largely due to weight problems.

After leaving St. Alysious Primary school in 1951, Mattis began riding the following year.

"I was turned down by the great Abbie Grannum who said he already had enough apprentices, so I ended up with Billy Pick, who was a former jockey. I rode my first winner, the outsider BOOMING STAR, in December 1952 and also won the Caribbean Cup aboard MAMSEL a week later," recalls the trainer, who turns 71 next month.

Mattis, who had a terrible riding accident early in his career and still has the scars on his left arm to show for it, also rode winners at Marlie racetrack in Old Habour.

He eventualy won his first Derby at Knutsford Park aboard TAMASHANA for Abbie Grannum.

'Kiddy', as he was popularly called during his long and distinguished career in the saddle, rode 446 winners, including 15 classic winners for the very good strike rate of 22.96 per cent, bettered only by George HoSang (29.87 per cent), Winston Griffiths (25.31 per cent), Trevor Simpson (24.90 per cent) and Emilio Rodriquez (24.43 per cent).

Enjoyed stint in the saddle

"I really enjoyed my stint in the saddle," recalls Mattis, "especially in later years when I rode the winners of many important races at Caymanas Park, including Princess Royal for trainer Sydney Watson (who is still with us) in the 1961 Derby, Ska for trainer Bobby Hale in the 1966 Derby and Buckchaser for trainer Billy Williams in the 1969 Derby.

"My only regret was that I never won the championship. This was due to the fact that being a heavyweight, my main rivals such as Winston Ellis, Neville Cousley, Trevor McKenzie and Arthur Jones were able to corner more rides that I did on a regular basis," he stated.

Mattis, whose sons Michael and Kevin became trainers as well, also won the Jamaica Guineas aboard the Gerry Skelton-trained KANDAHAR in 1963 and TORNADO for Billy Williams two years later, as well as the St. Leger with the Williams-trained CAPTAIN GOODENOUGH in 1964 and returning to win it for four consecutive years from 1966 to 1969 aboard SARATOGA, L'MAX and the stable-companions OBERON and BUCKCHASER, respectively.

His personal favourite was, of course, the legendary sprinter NONE SUCH, who he partnered to 24 victories for trainer Billy Williams and owner Israel Williams.

Popularly called 'The Train' owing to his ability to win under heavy imposts such as 140lb on a many occasions, NONE SUCH was 'Horse of the Year' in 1967.

Mattis also piloted NONE SUCH's stable-companion MABROUK, another crack native bred sprinter, who was 'Horse of the Year' in 1970.

To say that his career as a jockey pales into significance when compared to his exploits as a trainer would be an understatement.

Mattis obtained his trainer's licence on April 12, 1972 and saddled his first winner, RUMSTER, months later. A syndicate of owners (SAME), comprising Yvonne Lyncook (now his wife) and her brothers, saw the potential in Mattis and acquired two good horses for him to train - AGGREGATE and BIRBELLA. The rest is history.

Mattis went on to win eight trainers' championships, the first in 1979. He duly repeated the following year while other titles came in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990. He won a memorable championship over arch-rival Philip Feanny in 1988 when the little fancied filly OPHELIA ran her heart out to finish second to PAPER CHASE in the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup on the last raceday of the year, enabling him to beat the leader Feanny by a fistful of dollars.

Big Race winners

Mattis won his first Derby as trainer with the 1981Triple Crown winner and 'Horse of the Year' ROYAL DAD, who once held the record of 11 consecutive wins before his untimely death on October 16, 1982 when he collapsed and died on the track after winning the Governor-General's Stakes.

His other Derby winner was D'S A LEGEND in 1985.

He singled out the legendary LEGAL LIGHT, whom he acquired from trainer Billy Williams at the backend of 1977, as the greatest horse he has ever trained and the vast majority of racing fans would agree.

Owned and bred by Jack Ashenheim, LEGAL LIGHT won 27 races from 53 starts, most of these under 'Hall of Fame' jockey Winston 'Fanna' Griffiths who struck up a wonderful partnership with Mattis during the late '70s and '80s.

Other big race winners trained by Mattis include COMMON LAW, NAHEELAH, ROBIN GOODFELLOW, SHINING HOUR, QUIET RIOT, LEGAL MAN, THRONE CIRCLE, KHADULLAH, PERSIAN INVADER, MY LADY SILK, RICOCHET, ZALONDRINA and the filly MENTO MAID, who scored a notable upset in the 1978 Red Stripe Superstakes while classified in 'B2' class.

What else can one say about a man who apart from horse racing, enjoys boxing, cycling and, of course, a game of dominoes. He has, so far, saddled 1,067 winners.

-O. C.

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