Innes keen on what the new season holds
Leith Innes may be a senior statesman of the 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. Gr.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 ($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 Gr.2 Hobartville Stakes (1400m) followed by unplaced results in the Gr.1 Randwick Guineas (1600m) and Gr.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 Gr.2 Valachi Downs Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa in late August then to the Gr.1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) on the opening day of the Hawke’s Bay spring carnival. The TAB’s early market for the Tarzino has him on the third line at $5.50 behind Avantage at $2.80 and Catalyst on $5.
“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 (Gr.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.”
Schofer looking to finish season with a bang
It’s been a gruelling few months for Hazel Schofer, but all her hard work and determination has paid off after securing the New Zealand Apprentice Jockey Premiership in the final weeks of the season.
The Taranaki hoop has an unassailable 10-win lead over South Island apprentice Kozzi Asano ahead of the final day of racing on Saturday, and she said securing the title has been a big relief.
“The last two months have been a bit stressful, but it is a huge relief to get it done,” Schofer said.
“I knew I had done as much as I could. It would have been a great season either way - to get 70-odd wins has been great, it has gone so much better than I thought it could.”
While she has been pleased with her results this season, Schofer said the massive workload she has put herself under has taken a toll on her body, particularly in the last month.
After feeling unwell following racing at Cambridge on Wednesday, Schofer elected to withdraw from riding at Awapuni’s Thursday meeting at the behest of employer Allan Sharrock.
“I am really starting to feel the effects of a pretty full-on season,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling too well after the races yesterday, so Allan (Sharrock) said it was best to try and rest up for Saturday and try to finish off strong.”
Schofer has a strong book of rides on Saturday, including unbeaten juvenile Yeaboi in the Listed Courtesy Ford Ryder Stakes (1200m) for Sharrock.
“Yeaboi has trained on super from his win at Wanganui,” Schofer said. “It was his first start so he has a bit to learn. Hopefully he is a bit more street smart this time.
“We have had a lot of rain in New Plymouth and he seems to be getting through the track alright, so I don’t think (heavy) track conditions will be a bother to him.
“Blinkers go on, so that should sharpen him up a bit.”
Schofer will also ride stablemate Butler in the Racing This Time TV On Facebook (1200m).
“Butler is a last start winner,” she said. “It is a similar field to his last start and I think he can go out and win again.”
Dolcetto also presents as a nice chance for Schofer in the Courtesy Ford 1600m, although she admits her one-kilogram claim won’t give the eight-year-old gelding much weight relief from his 62kg impost.
“He has had two good thirds in his last two starts,” Schofer said. “He has got a lot of weight and I don’t take much off, only a kilo, but he is a big strong type and the weight doesn’t seem to bother him too much. I think he should be a good chance.”
Schofer will continue to ride for another week to contest the Gr.3 Winning Edge Presentatations 124th Winter Cup (1600m) at Riccarton with Justaskme next Saturday, but said she would then take a few weeks off to try and recuperate from this season’s efforts.
“It has been a long haul for me, especially with my weight over the last few months,” she said.
“But I am looking forward to the Winter Cup ride. They go in with 60kg, so I won’t have to sweat before that.
“I will then take a few weeks off and try and give my body a rest. I have been sick on and off for the last month so I will eat normal for a little while and try and recuperate.”
While Schofer has experienced a career-defining season, employer Allan Sharrock has also posted all-time best marks in both wins and prizemoney, and victory in the Ryder Stakes on Saturday would extend his stakes tally to eight this season, another personal best.
“He has been very happy,” Schofer said. “I think he is rapt with the season he has had, let alone how I have gone.”
With her premiership win, Schofer has added her name to the honour roll of top jockeys apprenticed to the New Plymouth trainer, which includes the likes of Michael Walker and Matt Cameron.
Schofer said she owes a lot of her success to Sharrock and other trainers who have taken a chance on the high weight apprentice.
“I have had a huge amount of support from Allan this season and a lot of his owners giving me the opportunity to ride their horses,” she said.
“He has given me so many race rides this season, which is great. It shows his support and that he thinks I can get the job done.
“I have ridden a lot of races this season only claiming half (a kilo) or nothing at all, so the support from trainers means a lot.
“I wouldn’t have had the number of rides I have had without trainers taking a chance on me not utilising a whole claim.”
Elliott living his racing dream
El Nymph is living proof of the old adage never look a gift horse in the mouth.
The only problem is that Matamata trainer Nigel Elliott nearly did.
A grey El Roca filly that had been passed in on Gavelhouse.com came to Elliott’s attention but after inspecting her at Sonia Waddell's Riverdale Farm near Tamahere, he decided she wasn't the one for him.
The next day, Waddell rang Elliott back and said he could have the filly for free as her breeders had two others out of the mare and were keen to get the family up and going. Again, he declined.
"But then I slept on it and being out of a Sir Percy mare, there was a bit of staying blood there and I thought ‘why don’t we give her a go?’ So we went and picked her up," Elliott recalled.
"We brought her home, broke her in and it's all gone from there. So she's a free horse that's doing the job for us."
El Nymph has gone on to win three of her 20 starts for Elliott and his wife and training partner Tammy and shapes as a leading contender for Saturday's Taumarunui RSA Gold Cup (2200m) at Rotorua on the strength of her commanding last-start win over the same distance at Te Rapa.
"She's won two of her last four but she could have won all four of those races if things had gone right," Elliott said.
"She let herself down at Tauranga when she was hanging on the corner of the Kiwifruit Cup and was only beaten a head at Wanganui the start before that. She's going superbly.
"Tammy went out and galloped her this morning. Usually she's hard to get onto the track. We have to lead her out but today she was straight out there and her work was awesome. Tammy was really happy and we can't fault her going into the weekend.
"She's just got a mind of her own. If she decides she doesn't want to do something she won't. But when her mind is on the job, watch out."
Elliott said El Nymph was getting easier to deal with as she got older and the couple were slowly ironing out her quirks.
"When she started off, she was always hard to get into the gates. Michael McNab used to ride her and he'd get off her so they would load her into the gates riderless," Elliot said.
"She was perfect up to her first trial but then she stayed home for the next month because after that she refused to get onto the float.
"But she's getting better all the time. She just loves the racing. She's more settled now. She's really clicked."
With apprentice Erin Leighton opting to ride at Otaki on Saturday, the Elliotts have taken the opportunity to reunite El Nymph with McNab.
"Michael has ridden her and really likes her. While we don't get the 1kg off her back, Michael is a top, in-form jockey and we're rapt to have him on."
TAB bookmakers have El Nymph as a $4.80 equal favourite for the Taumarunui Cup with Divine Duke.
"A top-two finish would be good but first place would be better. She pretty much beaten most of the horses in the field and if not, she's beaten horses that have beaten most of the rest," Elliott said.
"We had been holding off getting her over ground but we've always thought staying would be her forte. At the moment, we've got our eyes set on the New Zealand Cup at Riccarton. We reckon that race will suit her to a tee."
Elliott said El Nymph would have a short break after Saturday's race, while still having Tammy ride her "two or three times a week" before plotting a path towards November's Gr.3 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup (3200m), with the Listed Feilding Gold Cup (2100m) at Awapuni two weeks prior a possible lead-up.
Making the El Nymph journey all the more remarkable is Elliott's backstory.
The 43-year-old only saddled his first horse seven years ago, having come from a harness racing family. His great uncle Charlie Elliott was a prominent breeder, owner and administrator who bred and raced 1986 New Zealand Derby winner Alba's Reign. The Elliott Room at Alexandra Park is named after him.
Elliott remembers going to the races with his dad, the late Glenn Elliott, and harbouring a dream to train thoroughbred racehorses one day.
That came about when he was convinced to take a share in Red Tsunami, whose track rider he soon became acquainted with and later married.
He pestered Waikato trainer Janet Jeffrey for advice and was eager to learn and now, as a fully-fledged trainer, has achieved his dream.
Elliott lost both his parents about a month apart three years ago.
“It was a crazy, sad time. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if Dad didn’t take me to all the race meetings as a kid. It would be great to win the Cup on Saturday for him and Mum,” he said.
As well as training, Elliott operates a boxing gym out of Putaruru and runs boxing events, including one in recent weeks in conjunction with former All Black Liam Messam that raised $25,000 for a boy diagnosed with brain cancer.
Among those currently training under Elliot are star jumps jockey and trainer Shaun Phelan, apprentice Elen Nicholas and former jockey Isaac Fraser-Hayes, who is unbeaten as an amateur fighter.
Three-year-old shows plenty of spirit at AwapuniTalented three-year-old Invisible Spirit recorded his third career victory when digging deep late to land the Courtesy Ford 3YO (1400m) at Awapuni on Thursday for trainers Johno Benner & Hollie Wynyard.
Sent out a $1.40 favourite, the son of Charm Spirit looked in trouble at the top of the straight but burst between runners late to run out a comfortable winner and provide jockey Lisa Allpress with the second leg of a double.
“It was a good win, as he is still weak and he carried top-weight,” Benner said.
“He wobbled around the bend and got into a horrible spot, but he was good late and I think a little bit better track would suit.”
“We pulled him out of the Winter Cup (Gr.3, 1600m). He went 1550m last start with an eye towards that. There was nothing else that really suited him. It probably was just a little too far for him second-up after a big run first-up.
“He will be a horse for Riccarton next year. We will just take it run by run and protect his rating.”
Stablemate Happy Star will line-up at Otaki on Saturday in the Courtesy Ford Open Handicap (1600m), with the gelding’s trainers hoping to make up for a missed run when the races were abandoned at Trentham earlier in the month.
“He is as good as we can have him. The plan is to run and then back-up at Riccarton in the Winter Cup because he seems to back up well,” Benner said.
“We didn’t get to race at Wellington in the Whyte Handicap. It’s a nice enough field on paper on Saturday, but I wouldn’t swap him for anything.”