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Percy Edwin Sykes (1920-2014)

Percy Edwin Sykes was born on May 11, 1920 in Atbara, Sudan. He was the second son of an English Mechanical Engineer and an Italian mother. His father died of suspected food poisoning when he was six, and his mother returned to England. As his father was a mason, Percy and his elder brother attended the Royal Masonic School in Bushey free of tuition and boarding fees, from when Percy was seven years old. He excelled at sport, representing the school at rugby and hockey, and was captain of the cricket team. His family thought he should study medicine, but as there was a shortage of veterinary surgeons in Britain at the time, he enrolled at the Royal Veterinary College in 1937.

With the onset of World War 2 in 1939, he tried to enlist but he was discovered to be a veterinary student, which was a reserved occupation. In 1940, when he was about to sit his final Pharmacology examination, he was informed that his brother had been shot down over Crete. When he qualified as a veterinary surgeon in December 1943 he enlisted in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. He was posted to India, where he spent three months in Ambala in the Punjab, before becoming Executive Veterinary Officer in Lucknow, being responsible for pig and buffalo farms. He encountered foot-and-mouth disease in a pig, and found that treatment with penicillin prevented secondary infection. He was then posted to the XIV Army in Burma and then to the 26 North East African Division where he looked after pack mules. Here he was bitten by a puppy that was subsequently found to have rabies, and Percy had to endure two weeks of daily injections into his abdominal wall.

He met his first wife, a nurse and was married in Calcutta. He took over a Veterinary Hospital in Ballygunge, Calcutta and also acted as Honorary Veterinary Surgeon to the Calcutta Turf Club, where he first became involved with Thoroughbred racehorses.

In mid-1946 Percy and his wife returned to England and in 1947 their daughter Gay was born. Percy bought a commercial horse practice in the East End of London, where he was also contracted to undertake consultation work for Lloyds Underwriters. Calls out in the middle of the night in winter to attend colic cases resulting from gastric impactions in draft horses, made Percy look to moving somewhere else in the world with a warm climate.

He found out about a job in a horse practice in Sydney, Australia and in 1951 moved his family, which now included a second daughter Averil. The practice lacked the accommodation and car which had been promised, and after ten days he resigned and moved to Croydon Park where there was a racecourse. Here he rented a cottage with some stables, and started his own practice.

Percy was extremely dedicated and wanted to learn as much as possible about training. He would attend track work early in the mornings and soon became known as the ‘Pommie vet’. Within two years he had an extensive clientele which included the major racing stables of TJ Smith and Bart Cummings, as well as standardbred trainers. He became interested in the physiology of training and started his own laboratory, looking at haematology and biochemistry, often doing the work at night, after his calls were completed. In 1954 he moved to the Eastern Suburbs and took on an associate, the practice becoming known as P.E.Sykes & Partners.

In 1975, Percy bought a block of stables in Randwick, and this was followed in 1983 by the construction of a custom designed practice in Church Lane, Randwick. Percy retired and stayed on as a consultant, but in 1989 he returned to full time work and was involved in the building of a larger hospital and laboratory, which was completed in 1990 and called Randwick Equine Centre. The practice grew taking on Board Certified Specialists in medicine and surgery as well as commencing an Internship Program.

In a career spanning over seventy years, Percy will be remembered for his innovations in feeding and exercise regimes which had a great influence on horse racing in Australia. In 1991 he was granted Life Membership of the Australian Equine Veterinary Association. In 2003, he received an Order of Australia Award and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2006. Percy is survived by his second wife Michelle, daughters Gay, Averil and Amelia and son Timothy.