Sport

Jockey Craig Newitt realising his hoop dreams

Craig Newitt celebrates after winning the Rosehill Guineas on Tarzino in March.
Craig Newitt celebrates after winning the Rosehill Guineas on Tarzino in March. BRENDAN ESPOSITO

CRAIG Newitt reckons he was riding horses before he could walk.

Growing up in Tasmania, his parents, Guy and Virginia, had both been jockeys, so it was inevitable he would follow in their boots for a life in the saddle.

As far as careers went, you could say a young Newitt had the blinkers on.

"I certainly wasn't destined to be a basketballer or anything like that," Newitt, now of Australia's most successful jockeys, tells Australian Regional Media.

"Before and after school I'd go to the track with the old man. He messed around with a couple of racehorses he used to train."

The diminutive Newitt, who usually tips the scales at 54kg but can get down to 51kg without "too much of a drama", had dabbled in Aussie rules football on Saturdays, playing with his school team ... for three quarters anyway.

"I'd miss the last quarter and head off to the races," he recalls.

Newitt's dad, a one-time jumps jockey, remains an important part of his career, even seven years after his death in a road accident in 2009.

It's fair to say he's never far from his thoughts.

"It's something you never really get over, you just learn to deal with," he says.

Newitt had been due to race at Caulfield when he was relayed the tragic news of his father's death. Officials had delayed the race so he could decide whether he was going to ride.

He did, in tribute to his dad, and has been ever since.

An emotional Newitt rides Heart of Dreams past the finish line to win the $750,000 Cadbury Guineas at Flemington race track in March 2009. Newitt dedicated the win to his father who had died the previous week.
An emotional Newitt rides Heart of Dreams past the finish line to win the $750,000 Cadbury Guineas at Flemington race track in March 2009. Newitt dedicated the win to his father who had died the previous week.

"He lived a breathed racing his whole life, and just really enjoyed watching the good horses race," says the 31-year-old, himself now a doting father of three and husband to wife Karli.

"Every time I find one that I win the bigger races on, it brings back quite a few memories.

"I just wouldn't be in this position without him.

"When I first started (racing) I think he had four horses in work (as a trainer). That's what was required to actually have me as an apprentice.

"The four horses weren't much good, but he would run them every week so that I could get the practice, get the race rides under my belt.

"I think in the whole time he was alive, I think I only ran one winner for him."

Newitt's parents would move across Bass Strait when he got the invitation to enter big-time racing in Melbourne when still a teenager.

Newitt admits he was "s***ing myself" when he linked with prominent trainer Lee Freedman to complete his jockey apprenticeship in 2002.

"Without getting carried away I'd pretty done everything in Tassie I could do ... won all the main cups, apprentices title, the fully fledged jockey premiership even though I was still an apprentice," he explains.

"I'd had a few offers previously to come to the mainland from smaller trainers, but when Freedy threw the bone out there it was obviously too big a carrot to knock back.

"I'd only been here four or five months, and mum and dad had sold up everything back home and they'd moved over. That made it a lot easier."

 Newitt hugs his wife and sons after riding Tarzino to win the Victoria Derby  at Flemington Racecourse in October 2015.
Newitt hugs his wife and sons after riding Tarzino to win the Victoria Derby at Flemington Racecourse in October 2015.

His parents had been there for him again when he was suspended for 18 months in 2005 for giving false evidence to stewards during an inquiry into the running of horse Leone Chiara.

Also important was Melbourne trainer Mick Price.

"My manager at the time, Johnny Nikolic, had made a few phone calls to see who was going to give me a go when I first came back," Newitt says.

"The line was very short, there wasn't many.

"But the one bloke who didn't hesitate was Mick."

Newitt talks of his time spent on the outer as "all part of growing up".

"You go through the list of all the top jockeys in the country and somewhere along the line they've done a stint ... three months, 12 months," he says.

"Someone's gone off rails at some stage.

"It's just a matter of how you deal with it, how you get back and what you do when you do come back."

And with Price in his corner, Newitt hasn't looked back.

He has formed a successful union between jockey, trainer ... and of course horses such as Pompeii Ruler (2005-09) and, more recently, Lankan Rupee, Extreme Choice and Tarzino.

Newitt celebrates with trainer Mike Price after riding Tarzino to a win in the $1.5 million Victorian Derby race at Flemington racecourse in October 2015
Newitt celebrates with trainer Mike Price after riding Tarzino to a win in the $1.5 million Victorian Derby race at Flemington racecourse in October 2015

Tarzino, who he rode to victory in last year's Victoria Derby, was set to be among the contenders for this year's Caulfield and Melbourne cups, until he was scratched due to a left foreleg complaint on Saturday.

"The derby was more rewarding than anything. It was a race he had been set for his whole preparation. To go all the way and be as dominant as he was it was more of a relief ... it was job done," Newitt says.

"It's disappointing that he's gone now.

"Although his (2016) form didn't read all that well on paper, the horse had been going all right and I thought he was going to be a genuine chance in the Caulfield Cup and a bigger chance in the two-mile race (Melbourne Cup).

"But that's part of racing I suppose."

And now Newitt, who spent six months of 2015 riding in Singapore, is now facing an anxious time waiting for a ride in what would be his 11th appearance in the "race that stops a nation".

"It's what we ride nine months of the year for," he says.

"With any sport their grand final is somewhere along the line, you spend all year training for it. It's just good to be a part of it.

"I've won a hell of a lot of group one (races) in every state.

"Out of the big four (Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate, Golden Slipper and Melbourne Cup) ... it's the one I want.

"The international horses bring their own riders ... and most of the local horses are snapped up already.

"(But) there's a lot of horses down the list that haven't even been mentioned yet who are going to sneak into the field.

"It's just a matter of whether you can get your ass on one."

Topics:  racing sportfeature spring carnival



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