Leith Innes may be a senior statesman of New Zealand’s northern jockeys’ room, but he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for what lies ahead on the feature race scene in the new season.
Innes will sign off 2020-21 with 32 wins from 260 raceday rides, headed by his association with star three-year-old Aegon as well as passing the 1500-win mark.
Group 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas (1600m) and Karaka Million 3YO Classic (1600m) winner Aegon, along with a number of others whose potential is as yet untapped have the 43-year-old jockey looking forward to spring feature racing.
“When COVID hit last year I found it hard to get the weight off, and then when we got racing again it was a case of picking my rides and where I wanted to go, which has been the case for the past few years,” Innes said.
“While I didn’t get a whole lot of winners, I was still happy with what my mounts earned (NZD$1.86 million), so it was a good enough season.
“Aegon was an obvious highlight. He’s a classy little horse, his wins in the 2000 Guineas and Karaka Million proved that, when he had things go against him.”
Innes had also built a rewarding partnership with Aegon’s sire Sacred Falls during his three-year-old season, when the pair went unbeaten through to the New Zealand 2000 Guineas before the O’Reilly colt was transferred to Chris Waller.
“They’re pretty similar types, the main difference being that as a colt Sacred Falls was more compact and strong, but to ride you could say they’re very much the same.
“If you were in trouble they could get you out of a hole and then be giving you everything, all the way to the winning post.
“Going into the Karaka Million I was confident Aegon could win – he was absolutely flying – and the only thing that could stuff it up was me. I put a lot of pressure on myself at the same time as having so much faith in the horse.
“So when he delivered like he did and put his head out to beat Amarelinha, I was pretty happy, that was just the best feeling.”
Aegon again features high on Innes’s radar, having been given ample time by trainers Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman to recover from a Sydney autumn campaign that began with victory in the Group 2 Hobartville Stakes (1400m) followed by unplaced results in the Group 1 Randwick Guineas (1600m) and Group 1 Doncaster Mile (1600m).
“Andrew tells me he’s coming up very well, so I’m keen to get a feel of him when he trials at Ellerslie on Tuesday,” Innes said.
Aegon is expected to take the traditional spring route first-up into the Group 2 Valachi Downs Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa in late August then to the Group 1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) on the opening day of the Hawke’s Bay spring carnival.
“We know he’s got the class and he goes well fresh, so for those early races it gets down to how he comes up, but at this stage all the signs are good,” he said.
Innes also has his eyes on other new season prospects, amongst them horses in training with Cambridge Stud owners Brendan and Jo Lindsay’s Karaka-based private trainer Lance Noble, for whom he is the retained rider.
“From here at Clarks Beach it’s only a 15-minute drive to the farm, and I’m out there riding work two or three times a week,” Innes said.
“Lance has got some good sorts coming through – Gravitelle is a developing stayer and Marchand is a rising three-year-old who looks like he’ll be able to stay too.
“Then there’s other young ones coming through like Beldarra, who was placed in the Matamata Breeders’ Stakes (Group 2, 1200m) and in another stakes race in the autumn, so they’ll be out in the spring doing something.”
Innes also predicts a big spring for the likes of the Tony Pike-trained Doubtful Sound, who he partnered in his maiden two-year-old win at Ruakaka in May.
“He’s one of those colts you get and on he gives you a great feel – I’m already looking forward to riding him at Riccarton.”
While Innes has no defined thoughts of life beyond the jockeys’ room, he and his wife Jess aren’t ones for sitting on their hands and watching the world slide by.
Jess, who has held a marketing position at the Auckland Racing Club and with the development of FastTrack Insurance, has taken a role in sponsorship and marketing with the new sport and racing media platform, SENZ Radio.
The couple have in recent years operated Platinum Rentals, a golf cart hire business that supplies various operations and functions in the northern region.
“The carts are popular with a whole lot of different things like the Fieldays at Mystery Creek, New Zealand Bloodstock sales, Ellerslie races, Mt Smart music concerts and the Bruce Pulman sports complex at Takanini,” Innes said.
“They’re ideal for the people involved in security as well as a service to people attending these events. COVID has had an impact on music concerts and the like, but it’s still a good little business that’s a nice add-on to my riding.”