Master vet Percy Sykes has died aged 93 in Sydney.
Lauded for his pioneering treatment of some of Australian racing’s greatest horses, he was credited with saving the life of Tulloch in 1958 when the stallion was struck down by a potentially deadly virus.
He rated Tulloch’s comeback win in the G1 Queen’s Plate at Flemington a career highlight.
Sykes pioneered a number of treatments now commonplace throughout the industry, such as feed supplements, standing castrations and the use of penicillin. He was also among the first to tap into the incredible potential of monitoring blood tests to assess how a horse was responding to training.
In 1989, Sykes and Arrowfield chairman John Messara helped reshape the Australian breeding industry when Danehill came on the market. The Juddmonte colt was back at the knee but Sykes pointed out that same fault had been shared by Star Kingdom.
Messara commissioned a statue of his mentor in 2003 which stands at the entrance to the Arrowfield Stud Office where he is remembered and acknowledged every day by staff, clients and visitors.
“When it came to horses and their well-being, he had no peer,” Messara said in a tribute on Tuesday morning. “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; 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. His style was quiet and under-stated. Every case was a challenge to him and he rarely failed to make an accurate diagnosis.
“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.”
Born in Sudan in 1920, Sykes completed his veterinarian training in London and served in India as a vet in World War II, before emigrating to Australia. He established P E Sykes and Partners and the practice would later become the Randwick Equine Centre.
Sykes received an Order of Australia in 2003 and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005. “I never thought about being inducted, never even dreamed about it,” he said. “I suppose it’s the ultimate honour when you get to my age.”