Innes pitch-perfect in career finale

By Dennis Ryan

1 Jun 2022

Innes pitch-perfect in career finaleJob done: Leith Innes signs off on his jockey career with victory on Pinarello in the Queensland Der

“The way it played out, I couldn’t have wished for more, and I was happy to go out on my own terms.”
Every race has its nuances for the various parties involved, but for Leith Innes the Gr. 1 Queensland Derby was unique.
As he prepared to don the black and yellow checked colours of major supporters Brendan and Jo Lindsay and take the mount on their Cambridge Stud-bred Pinarello, Innes had settled on a big decision. This would be the race to bring the curtain down on his jockey career, one that had spanned 28 years and more than 1,500 wins.
The incredible thing about this decision was that Innes kept it to himself. Only after he had pulled off a masterclass ride to land the 31st Group One victory of his career did he let others in on his big secret.
“I didn’t tell anyone – I was under enough pressure to get it right as it was,” Innes told RaceForm on his return home earlier this week. “I knew the horse had it in him and I basically backed myself.
“The way it played out, I couldn’t have wished for more, and I was happy to go out on my own terms. I’ve won some good races over the years so to go out on a winning note in a race like that was great.”
Having confidence in his own ability was only part of the equation. Relying on the training skills of Roger James and Robert Wellwood in having Pinarello primed despite the five-week gap from his previous start win in New Zealand.
“Roger knows his stuff when it comes to these races and he knew his horse too. Pinarello is one of those horses that doesn’t need a lot to keep him right and Roger pulled the right rein pulling him out of the Rough Habit Plate when the track was so heavy.
“We hadn’t counted on drawing so wide, but I had done my homework and the way things panned out we managed to get the right trip and be able to put him in the race when I wanted to.”
Innes has formed professional relationships that over the years have morphed into friendships, and it meant a lot to be able to share the occasion with several of them on Saturday. That included the Lindsays and Cambridge Stud CEO and his wife Michelle, retained Lindsay Racing trainer Lance Noble, James, fellow jockey Opie Bosson and Cambridge trainer Tony Pike.
At age 44 Innes can look back on a career that began with his Masterton-based father Gerald and continued with noted apprentice mentor Jim Gibbs. In 2003-04 when still based in Matamata he won the jockeys’ premiership and along the way he has ridden horses that every jockey yearns to swing a leg over.
“I’ve been lucky to have been associated with some of the best horsemen in the game. Gibbsy, the O’Sullivans, McKees, Pikey, Allan Sharrock, Roger James and lots of people – trainers and others – who have helped my career.
“The same with the good horses I’ve ridden – Starcraft was special in that Mudgway Stakes I won on him, my first Group One on Tobruk, unbeaten on Sacred Falls, then there’s others like Kawi, Wahid, but that’s only scratching the surface.
“I consider myself lucky that right through my career I had only three race falls and only a small number of injuries. The worst was three small fractures in my lower back that actually didn’t hurt that much but could have been a lot worse.”
A lanky frame has made it tough for Innes in keeping his weight in check, something that he can now leave behind, particularly during the winter months that he has struggled with year on year.
“It’s a good feeling that I don’t have to put myself through that anymore. Instead I plan to take it easy for a month, relax and have more time for our two kids (14-year-old Stella and 11-year-old Jett) who are growing up fast.
“My wife Jess has a good job working on the commercial side of SENZ Radio and I’ve got the golf cart business that’s getting busy again.
“As to what else I might do, I’ve got some thinking to do. I guess racing might be part of that, it could be a natural fit after spending my whole life in it.”