Leith Innes on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and mindset as a jockey

21 Dec 2020
Auckland Thoroughbred Racing

Auckland-based jockey Leith Innes has won a premiership for most wins in a season and also had a number of Group One wins including the Doomben Cup on Beaten Up, six wins straight on Sacred Falls and rode World Champion miler Starcraft to victory in the 2004 Mudgway Partsworld Stakes.

But like any sport, being one of New Zealand’s most consistent jockeys requires a lot of physical and mental preparation.

We chat to him about how he handles the challenges of his high-pressure job.

How do you stay fit?

Riding and racing two to three times a week definitely keeps you fit.

I go to the track three days a week and each time there might be a trial with 10-15 rides.

You can do as much running as you want, but riding a horse is quite different to other forms of fitness, it requires lots of core strength, as well as thighs and arms.

Leith aboard Familia winning here on Jarden Melbourne Cup Day in November


How do you prep for a race?

I’m taller than most jockeys so I do have to watch my diet to meet the allocated weight restrictions for the horses.

That means if there’s a race meeting on a Saturday I will have a decent meal on Wednesday night and then stick to light salads until Saturday.

It’s also really important for me to prep mentally, so I will spend over an hour watching past replays of the horse on the iPad to get focused for the race ahead.

I use this time to go through the race patterns, previous runs and how I can improve it.

What does the morning of a race look like for you?

Obviously I will be a bit anxious about the weigh-in [checking to make sure he’s met the weight requirements for the horses he is riding], but I’ve been riding for such a long time now that I don’t get nervous anymore.

I take the morning to psyche myself up more and put myself into a relaxed zone.

It’s important that I don’t allow myself to get stressed, but instead look forward to the big day ahead riding winning horses. It’s so exciting.

Leith aboard Chenille after their win in the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup

Do you visualise how a race will go?

No not really.

As a jockey, you always have a vision of how the race is going to run by doing your form, but once the barriers open everything can change in the first ten metres.

It’s not until the gates open that you know what’s going to happen.

How do you keep your energy levels up?

I like to take a Berocca from time to time on the way to the races; it gives me a good pick up for the whole day.

I’m always pretty focused when I get there, but I also enjoy a coffee in the morning on the way.

How do you manage the physical and emotional challenges of your job?

I like to go for long runs and walks and chill out with headphones on.

I also plan a good set of rides for the day.

My philosophy is to always try my best, but accept that some things don’t work out and not every race will be perfect.

Each race is a fresh start, so once a race is done you turn the page and look forward to the next one.

What’s the best way to unwind after a race?

I like to sit down and enjoy a hearty Sunday roast meal accompanied by a couple of ice cold beers.

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