New Zealand horseman Les Collins has ridden work for many leading trainers over a number of years, and generally knows when he’s on a good one.
So he’s hoping his judgment proves right about his three-year-old filly Annie, who contests a 1300m maiden on the Cambridge synthetic track on Wednesday.
“There was nothing not to like when you looked at her, and I would have felt like I’d wanted to ride her, which is a good sign for me,” Collins said.
“So far she hasn’t made a liar out of me. I believe she could be a real headliner. She feels like a rocket to me.”
Collins, 62, may not be a household name but he’s well known to many people in the racing industry. He was a jockey in the 1970s, coming through the South Island ranks with Jim Collett and David Walsh, and rode about 50 winners before leaving the profession.
He worked for a while at a car assembly plant but the lure of horses was too great and he became a respected track rider, working for Graeme Rogerson, Tony Pike, Roger James, and Murray Baker, among others.
“I’ve always been a no-name that’s worked for everyone you know,” Collins said. “I’m one of those guys you see and think ‘he’s been around forever’ but you never really know him. But that’s the way I’ve always kind of liked it.”
Along with riding work, Collins has had an owner-trainer licence for more than 20 years. He’s had a few useful ones, among them Valmur, a two-race winner who is likely to be up for auction on gavelhouse.com next week.
He heads to the Cambridge synthetic track on Wednesday with two runners, and though he’s confident Dear Oh Dear will run well, it’s Annie that he has most time for. Formerly with Bill Thurlow, Collins picked the mare up after she’d trialled twice as a two-year-old.
“The bloke that sold me Valmur, he actually bred this one and he’s leased me a three-quarter share to have a go basically,” Collins said. “I didn’t really want to do that, but she was in the right place at the right time.”
She has raced just once, finishing fifth over 970m on the Cambridge synthetic on June 15.
“Because I’m paying most of the bills, I decided a race would be better than a trial given that she had shown me a little bit,” Collins said.
“It was an absolute blinder, to tell you the truth. There’s no way she was ever going to be a 970m horse and she missed the start by a couple of lengths.
“She should be suited by 1300m tomorrow, and she might even like a bit further over time. She’s got a touch of something about her.”
Annie won’t be the only runner at Cambridge for Collins, who also lines up Dear Oh Dear in a Rating 65 1300m race for fillies and mares.
The five-year-old was a NZD$500 purchase on gavelhouse.com as a three-year-old and rewarded Collins with a victory at her fourth start, also over 1300m on the Cambridge synthetic on September 2 last year.
This campaign she’s had three runs, all on the synthetic, for a sixth, a second, and a fourth.
“I felt she hadn’t had a fair chance really when I bought her,” he said. “It’s turned out she’s not really a turf horse but she is a synthetic horse.
“I’m very pleased with her. I felt last start, when she finished fourth, that 1550m may have been a bit far for her, which is why I dropped her back to 1300m.
“The barrier draw of 12 is a bit of a concern for her, but I think she’ll be alright as she is very fast out of the gates so hopefully she won’t get caught too wide.”
Collins does not train many but says he continues to enjoy the industry and loves every victory he gets.
“I certainly get a thrill out of knowing you’re beating the odds if you’ve got a horse that wins a bit of money. It’s not easy to do, so to beat the odds is very enjoyable.”