The harness racing world rocked on its axis the day that Gwyne Higgins died, and for many of us, it will never be in kilter again. He has been part of the fixtures and fittings of the sport for more years than he would ever admit to (he was 83 going on 35!), and the thought of never seeing his ready smile again, or hearing that sing-song voice knowledgeably recite pedigrees or tell stories of long ago, is unthinkable.
I think I can safely say that the sport in the Wales & West area would hardly exist without Gwyne’s passion for the sport, and his family trait of never being able to resist a deal. I knew his father Alfie, and his uncle, Mac from childhood –proper livestock dealers who could judge an animal to an inch in seconds, and made a good living from their knowledge and wits. Gwyne (he swore the registrar made a mistake in the spelling on his birth certificate) preferred farming, and he and his brother Graham milked cows in Herefordshire for most of his adult life. His passion was trotting, but he could never resist a deal. Over the seven decades that he was involved in the sport, he touched the lives of many of us. When an altercation with an Oncoming Vehicle shattered my life in 1987, Mac suggested I took up trotting, as my great grandfather had before me. Of course, Gwyne had the perfect schoolmaster in Santana Lad, and I had the horse, his harness, and a cart –and another horse, Stoneriggs Herbie in the slap of a hand. Another addict to the sport was Hooked, along with the scores of others Gwyne had introduced….including BHRC Chairman, Roy Sheedy, who became a close friend, and even offered Gwyne and his wife Brenda a temporary home when the farmhouse was flooded out one year.
Speak to anyone in this area, and they’ll have a memory of Gwyne –often from his hey-day before BHRC was formed, when he, Herbie Cresswell, Tom Harper and their like, won good races every weekend on the circuits. Roland Pugh rode his first winner on Young Davy Jones at Kington all those years ago courtesy of Gwyne, who had also qualified Black Arrow and Langton Direct for the Final. Names that echo down the corridors of memory…along with Golden Mirage, and Saunders Take-Off who won the Stanley Dancer Trophy for Gwyne…..Happy days indeed.
Gwyne was a living encyclopaedia of the sport – and he knew the 5-generation pedigree of almost every horse racing. It was Gwyne’s insistent advice that sent Gwyn Owens to buy lot 9 at a sale, many years ago. It HAD to be that filly, for the bloodlines…she didn’t look much, ‘a scrawny little thing’ but Gwyn Owens trusted Gwyne Higgins’ judgement, though they named her ‘Doubtful’. Thus the dam of the mighty Fearless JR, who fulfilled every dream that Richard Owens dared to have, had been sourced by Gwyne… The late Pete Collins, a British Autograss champion was persuaded to try a different adrenalin rush by Gwyne, who sold him Max Factor…two seasons later, Max Factor was leading horse in Wales & West. The list of people he helped is endless. The Dyer and Wakefield families were especially close to Gwyne, and enjoyed many victories together over the years, particularly in the glory days of his backmarking stallion, Bruce Baron.
At the races, he always found time to talk, had a tale to tell, and knowledge to share.
His smile will be missed more than he could ever know. His passing feels as if it marks the End of an Era, when ‘Trotting’ was about Sport, Fun and occasionally outwitting the bookmakers. Gwyne was a man who might know the price of everything, but for him the Value of it all meant much, much more. God bless Gwyne –Heaven has gained a Horseman, and we have lost a good friend.
Gwyne’s funeral will be on Thursday, April 5th, at Rudford Church, Gloucestershire at 12.30 pm