The featured image shows a mature Percy Sykes beside his own bronze statue created by Tanya Bartlett outside the Arrowfield Stud Office near Scone. Characteristically he has a glass of wine in his hand. This would have been a flute of champagne at the champagne bar at Royal Randwick during every major meeting. Percy usually had some very attractive female attendants to fill his glass.
See also: http://www.randwickequine.com.au/history
If you mention ‘equine/horse veterinarian’ to anyone remotely connected with the thoroughbred racing industry in Australia it’s short odds they will name Percy Sykes. Such is the reputation and aura of invincibility he constructed for almost 60 years that he convinced even the most hard bitten of racing journalists and trainers. It may not be generally known but Percy has a close connection with the Upper Hunter through two vitally important professional associations. The first was the Veterinary Partnership named Sykes Bain & Partners in the early 1960s. This did not last the distance. There was way too much ‘space’; physically, professionally and philosophically between Percy Sykes at Randwick and Murray Bain in Scone for this union to survive. It was like an ‘unfortunate marriage’ that should never have taken place.
Much more successful and enduring was Percy’s long term consultancy with Arrowfield Stud and John Messara. This stood the test of time only ending with Percy’s passing. Percy’s affiliation with the T. J. Smith’s Tulloch Lodge stables is the stuff of legend. It has been very well documented as has his professional nurturing skills with champion ‘Tulloch’ when under severe distress. There are myriad stories about Percy; many of them are true.
The following encomium was the ‘official version’ posted by journalist Mark Brassel, Editor Racing NSW Magazine.
Racing NSW Pays Tribute to
Dr Percy Sykes AM
An obituary compiled by Mark Brassel, Editor Racing NSW Magazine
The racing industry is in mourning following the passing of widely-respected veterinarian, Dr Percy Sykes AM MRCVS MACVSc, who died in Sydney on Monday evening (13 January 2014) at the age of 93. Dr Sykes was a trailblazer in Thoroughbred veterinary science and became instrumental in Tommy Smith’s record-breaking 33-year reign as Sydney’s premier trainer.
Dr Sykes was appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 2003, and inducted to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.
Racing NSW Chairman, Mr John Messara AM, said today: “’Old dogs for the hard road and puppy dogs for the sand’ was one of Percy Syke’s favourite expressions. He used it jokingly to refer to younger, less experienced friends and associates, but when it came to horses and their well-being, we were all puppy dogs beside Percy.
Such was his insight into the equine species, that he had no peer. “You don’t often cross paths with a genius in your life, but Percy was such a man in his chosen profession. I often describe him as having X-ray vision; he was capable of diagnosing a condition more accurately via telephone than the attending vet conducting the clinical examination.
“When he was on the spot, his powers of observation were extraordinary. Percy would note the smallest irregularity in the condition, behaviour or gait of a horse. X-rays were just for confirmation. “Percy’s mind was open and his knowledge and experience were wide. Every case was a challenge to him and he rarely failed to make an accurate diagnosis. His style was quiet and under-stated, and he was always impeccably dressed.
“Percy was a wonderful friend, always there to help me, he was incredibly loyal and diligent, and while he enjoyed having fun, his work always came first. “He built a vet practice regarded as a leader in the worldwide Thoroughbred industry, and was my mentor and one of the founding pillars of Arrowfield. I learned so much from Percy, and will be forever grateful for his friendship and his wisdom. “He was the recipient of many awards, but none can do justice to the contribution Percy has made to veterinary science and to Australian racing. In my lifetime, he has no equal. I am, and always will be privileged to call him my friend.”
Born in the Sudan in 1920, Percy Sykes was educated in England, completed his veterinary training in London before World War II, and then served in India with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. He returned after the war to London where he set up practice and began to do horse insurance work with Lloyd’s of London.
Percy emigrated to Australia in 1951, and established P.E. Sykes & Partners in Sydney where his clinical acumen and introduction of new equipment and techniques, such as the use of the stomach tube, penicillin and standing castration, quickly won him many clients.
He also encouraged changes to feeding and training regimes and by the end of the 1950s Percy’s clients included many leading trainers, most notably Tommy Smith. Percy not only treated Smith’s horses, he also became his close friend and confidant for 30 years. Percy was involved in the veterinary care of almost every top horse in the Smith stable, including champions Tulloch and Kingston Town, and was one of the first veterinarians in the world to use blood testing to monitor how a horse was responding to training.
Other clients were Jack Green, Bart Cummings and Jack Denham, and celebrated owner Robert Sangster.
Top-class stayer Igloo, runner-up in the 1971 Cox Plate, Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, was one of Percy’s many success stories. In 1971 in Perth he broke down completely after shattering sesamoids in both front legs.
In Percy’s care, Igloo recovered and returned to racing almost two years later, winning over 2000-metres at Rosehill carrying 61.5kg. He went on to win four Group races including the 1974 Group 1-Caulfield Stakes at his final start.
By the 1970s Percy’s practice had grown to employ 12 veterinarians covering the entire city and several provincial tracks, four stud farms on the perimeter of the metropolitan area and a large number of spelling farms. The practice worked at the cutting edge of diagnostic technology, introducing endoscopy, ultrasonography, xero-radiography and arthroscopy when these techniques became available.
By 1988 the practice became the Randwick Equine Centre with a purpose-built hospital, laboratory and clinic including two surgical suites, an accredited nuclear medicine facility and a large number of loose boxes. Percy remained a consultant vet to the practice and to Arrowfield Stud until his death.
Percy also enjoyed success as an owner of many good horses, among them Group One winners A Little Kiss and Princess Talaria, Group winners Our Shout and Forward Charge, Stakes-winner Around the Traps and Group One performers Mixed Grill, Sticks and Stones and Together Again.
However, when asked to name his greatest thrill in racing, Percy nominated Tulloch’s victory in the 1960 VRC Queen’s Plate, at his first start after recovering from an illness that Percy had correctly diagnosed and treated. Dr Sykes was appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 2003, and inducted to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.
John Messara of Arrowfield said:
Sykes pioneered many of the techniques now common in equine medicine, including feed supplements, blood counts, standing castrations and even the use of penicillin.
“You don’t often cross paths with a genius in your life, but Percy was such a man in his chosen profession. I often describe him as having X-ray vision; he was capable of diagnosing a condition more accurately via telephone than the attending vet conducting the clinical examination,” said John Messara, chairman of Arrowfield Stud, on Tuesday.
“When he was on the spot, his powers of observation were extraordinary. Percy would note the smallest irregularity in the condition, behaviour or gait of a horse. X-rays were just for confirmation.
“Percy’s mind was open and his knowledge and experience were wide. Every case was a challenge to him and he rarely failed to make an accurate diagnosis. His style was quiet and under-stated, and he was always impeccably dressed,” he said.
In 2003 Sykes received an Order of Australia, and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2006, when he was in his mid-80s.