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Legendary Letts 'truly honoured' by feature race accolade

Legendary South Australian jockey John Letts said he was truly honoured to have a feature race carrying his name.

Saturday will see the inaugural $100,000 Listed John Letts Cup (1800m), formerly Tokyo City Cup, run at Morphettville.

“It’s a real honour and it was a big surprise when I got the news,’’ Letts said.

“Racing has been my life, and still is my life. It has given me everything and I can never repay it,’’ he said.

Affectionately known as ‘The Punters Pal’ Letts rode 2350 winners during his 30 year career which included 97 cups wins, 30 city and 67 county features, while he’s arguably most recognised for his work during the Melbourne Cup Carnival interviewing winning jockeys on horseback.

And he said having the John Letts Cup on such a significant day on the Australian racing calendar was even more special.

“The Tokyo City Cup has always been a quality race and being on Derby Day makes it even better,’’ Letts added.

“I obviously had a long association with Melbourne Cup week, so to have a race named in my honour, in Adelaide, on what is arguably the best day of racing in Australia is terrific, I’m really looking forward to it,’’ he said.

Famous for guiding Piping Lane to victory in the 1972 Melbourne Cup at his first visit to Flemington, Letts recounts only ever seeing the horse 10 minutes prior to the race that stops the nation and never seeing the horse again after their Cup success.

His career was almost finished in 1974 following a race fall that left him with a neck and spinal injury which was mysteriously cured by a punter rather than a doctor.

“I thought I’d never ride again,’’ Letts said.

“I was a quadriplegic, at least that was the early diagnosis. Thankfully that turned out to be wrong!.

"I woke up at the Royal Adelaide Hospital a few days later. I was in a neck brace and I had a sandbag each side of my head. They had to keep me stable because they were worried if I moved quickly I would damage or cut my spinal cord,’’ he said.

And his recovery was even more remarkable.

"I was out the back at the races and a bloke rushed past me to place a bet. He hit in the side of the face, and it flung my neck around. After that, I could move and turn my neck freely again!"

Letts won a second Melbourne Cup on Belldale Ball in 1980 (pictured).

He claimed three Adelaide Cups, an Australian Cup, Moonee Valley Cup, Marlboro Cup, Sandown Cup, Hobart Cup and Launceston Cup.

His 124 features also included five SAJC Goodwood Handicaps, an Epsom Handicap and AJC Australasian Champion Stakes, two Futurity Stakes, the Victoria Derby, SA Derby, and two SA Oaks.

Despite all his success on the track, Letts’ greatest achievement was overcoming prostate cancer in 2014 and he said there was some undyingly special about Melbourne Cup week.

“For a long time the Melbourne Cup has been the race that stops a nation,’’ Letts said.

“But now it stops nations!

“It’s a remarkable race and it’s only getting greater each and every year. The international interest is something else and I can’t wait for next Tuesday,’’ he said.



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