Collett as competitive as ever for series

Matamata trainer and former top jockey Jim Collett isn’t taking his return to the raceday saddle for the Classic Jockeys Series lightly.

Collett (54) will never lose his competitive nature, as he showed when using the Cambridge trials last Tuesday to prepare for the two-race series, which begins at the Cambridge Jockey Club’s meeting on Sunday week.

Collett has constantly ridden trackwork since he ended his career as a jockey seven seasons ago, but he knows it’s a different ball-game than riding in races.

At the Cambridge trials he climbed aboard a Bachelor Duke two-year-old he trains and was also the rider of the smart mare Pussy O’Reilly in an open heat.

“I just wanted to get my eye in,” quipped Collett, who is one of the elite group of jockeys to have ridden more than 1000 winners in New Zealand. “It was a good warm-up for the races. It’s going to be a competitive race and I won’t be the only one out there to win.”

Collett rode 1633 winners in New Zealand and topped the NZ Jockeys’ Premiership in 1994-95 with 116 wins and more than $1 million in stakemoney. He twice represented New Zealand in the International Jockeys’ Series in Japan and rode a winner on both occasions.

Collett served his apprenticeship with the NZ Racing Hall Of Fame trainer Rex Cochrane at Gore and also enjoyed success over fences, kicking home 10 winners from 80 mounts. “I won the Sydenham and Grand National Hurdles double at Riccarton on Rapid Flight when I was 18,” he recalled.

But it was as a flat jockey that Collett excelled, and not only on the local front. He rode more than 50 winners in Singapore/Malaysia and in Australia his wins included the Gr. 1 South Australian Oaks on (Our) Heavenly Body, the South Australian and VRC St Legers (Waiau Pal), the Rough Habit Plate (Tobruk), the O’Shea Stakes (Pakaraka Star) and the Werribee Cup (Te Akau Pearl).

On the New Zealand front he is best remembered for providing trainer Mike Moroney with his first Group One win in the 1985 NZ 1000 Guineas at Riccarton and winning the 1991 Auckland Cup on Star Harvest.

Collett’s other major wins included such Group Ones as the Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes (Snap and Joker’s Wild), Ellerslie Sires’ Produce Stakes (Do Si Do), Auckland Classic and Cambridge Stud International Stakes (All In Fun), International Stakes (Aerosmith), Grosvenor Championship Stakes (Popsy) and Captain Cook Stakes (Marquise).

“All In Fun was one of the best I rode,” recalled Collett. “I won a Counties Cup on him. I also won the Counties Cup on Gold Fever. Pakaraka Star was another good one and when I was down south I won 12 races on Yipp’s Secret. I was lucky to ride a lot of good horses.”

As well as the couple of International Stakes, Collett’s other success at Te Rapa (the scene of the two Classic Jockeys Series races) included two Waikato Cups (Pakaraka Star and Miltak) and the Gr. 2 Cambridge Stud Sir Tristram Fillies Classic on Veloce Bella in his penultimate season of riding.

In fact in that latter 2006-07 season he kicked home 20 winners with four being in Group or Listed events and three on Veloce Bella (also Eight Carat Classic, Avondale Guineas). The other was in the Listed Matamata Slipper on El Cuento, a youngster he also trained.

One person eager to watch Collett back in the raceday saddle is his daughter, successful jockey Sam Collett. “It’ll be good to see him go around again,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and I know he’ll want to win.”