By Neto Baptiste
For the second time in four months, the country’s horse racing fraternity has been left mourning the death of a prominent figure. Experienced jockey, Clair Wilkins, passed away on Thursday at the age of 45.
President of the Antigua Turf Club (ATC), Neil Cochrane, said the news of the jockey’s passing came as a shock.
“That just hit me like a ton of bricks, and I just couldn’t believe it, and up to this minute it’s just really sad news. On the heels of losing Ralph Francis and remembering being at the Barnes Funeral Home with Clair who was making his contribution towards our efforts to show our appreciation for Ralph, and he was there leading the charge, and now, I don’t even know if two months have passed, and this is the news that has come to us,” he said.
Wilkins’ death follows that of prominent attorney and member of the horse racing fraternity, Ralph Francis, who died on March 2.
The jockey was one of the country’s best, having won several awards, and he was also nominated on several occasions for the National Sportsman of the Year Award.
One of his top rivals and friend, Jeff Jacobs, remembers Wilkins for his tenacity and competitive nature.
“He brought out the best in me, he was a fierce competitor, and I guess we brought out the best in each other. I just want to say condolences to the Wilkins family because that’s where I learned my craft – between Everton Wilkins and Vere ‘Legal’ Pratt. With Clair, it had always been a good and competitive spirit with no bad-mindedness. He was a fierce competitor and always humble, always respected me,” he said.
Meanwhile Everton Wilkins, the uncle of Clair, said that it was just last week when he saw the former national athlete that he suggested a visit to the doctor, adding that he was not looking “so well.”
“Well, I went to see Clair last week Monday and I knew he wasn’t looking so well. I asked him if he wanted to go and get help, but he kept telling me that he is alright, and yesterday [Thursday], my daughter rang me and gave me the news. Clair was my favourite, because he reminded me of my dad and my brother. He was very forceful with anything that he wanted to get done, because he was a man like that,” he said.
Clair has jockeyed thoroughbreds like Iron Mike, Lasham, Queen of Hearts, Mr. Big Stuff and many more during his career. He has also won the turf club’s top jockey of the year accolade on multiple occasions. Clair was the brother of Omoro Wilkins, a jockey who died as a result of an incident during a race at the Cassada Gardens Race Track in the early 2000s.