Legend laid to rest
Horse racing fraternity pays glowing tributes to Hall of Famer Kenneth Mattis
Orville Clarke, Gleaner Writer
Members of the horseracing fraternity paid glowing tributes to the life and work of the late Hall of Fame jockey and trainer, Kenneth 'Kiddie' Mattis OD, at a memorial service yesterday at the Stella Maris Roman Catholic Church, Shortwood Road.
The eight-time champion trainer, who saddled 1,070 winners in a long and distinguished career, died on Saturday, October 18 after a short illness. His remains will be cremated.
Christopher Brown, chairman of Caymanas Track Limited (CTL), told the packed church that Kiddie Mattis was a giant of a man.
He recalled that he won eight trainers' titles, having secured his first in 1981, due mainly to the exploits of the illustrious three-year-old colt, ROYAL DAD, the first Triple Crown winner at Caymanas Park and the first to win 11 consecutive races to be named 'Horse of the Year'.
"In recognition of his outstanding contribution and accomplishment, the Government of Jamaica decorated Kenneth Mattis with national honours and bestowed upon him the rank of the Order of Distinction for an illustrious career that spanned five decades, over 1500 crowning moments at the winners' enclosure - both as jockey and as a trainer - eight championships and two inductions," said Brown.
"Today, even as we mourn his passing, we do so in the full recognition that he has left an indelible mark, not only in the annals of local horse racing, but indeed in the life of our noble island as one who will go down as a man who stood tall," added Brown.
Further tributes came from his granddaughter, Jodi Chang, Jockey Club veteran Keith Binns, as well as Dalton Sirjue, representing the Jamaica Racehorse Trainers' Association and the United Racehorse Trainers' Association.
Dr Paul Wright, a former president of the Owners' Association for whom Mattis trained several horses, including Ophelia and Staff Nurse, recounted some interesting antidotes in his long association with the trainer as friend and client.
Wright recalled that after leaving St Aloysius Primary School in downtown Kingston in the early '50s, Mattis' ambition was to become a cyclist. But he soon came under the wings of famed jockey Billy Pick, an Englishman, and chose horse racing instead, riding his first winner, BOOMING STAR, in 1952.
During his heyday in the '60s characterised by his successful association with the legendary sprinter None Such, Dr Wright disclosed that Kiddie was always willing to teach other riders.
As a trainer, Wright recalled his close battles with many-time champion Philip Feanny for the title, singling out the year 1988 when Feanny started the final raceday looking a sure thing, only to be pipped by Mattis in the penultimate race when the little-fancied OPHELIA (owned by Wright) ran above herself to finish second to PAPER CHASE in the prestigious Benson and Hedges Gold Cup.
"Mattis was something else," he said.
Wright recalled his love for a game of dominoes and how they would venture into the Southside community of Gold Street on a regular basis to engage opponents. On the other hand, he refused to select horses for his clients at the yearling sales. And Wright spoke of the lady behind the man, Yvonne Mattis, who ensured that everything was OK from day one.
The first and second lessons were read by Mattis' daughter Kimika Mattis-Ennevor and Sophia Mattis, while another daughter, Michelle Mattis read the universal prayer.
The service, which was conducted by the Rev Father Howard Thompson, ended with a glorious rendition of Holy City (Jerusalem, Jerusalem).