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Raced with heart and soul

25 February 2022 Written by Patrick Bartley

Australian Guineas week is always emotional for two-time winner Craig Newitt. He overcame unimaginable grief just days before winning the famed race in 2009, after taking home the prize in 2008.

The Caulfield stewards section consists of a room with a long dining room table down the middle where the integrity team are placed on both sides opposite each other and will sit in judgment on all licensed people during a day at the races.

Jockeys and trainers are not keen to enter this room that is located in the bowels of the course and where the penalties large and small are delivered.

In late February 2009 half an hour before the Futurity Stakes, jockey Craig Newitt was doing some last-minute study on the competitors in the Group 1 event when he was tapped on the shoulder by a deputy steward summoning the jockey into the stewards’ room.

“It’s always a slight concern when you’re called into the room, but I knew pretty well that I hadn’t been involved in any law-breaking that day. However, once I walked into the room and the door closed behind me I saw two sturdy policemen with long faces staring at me.

“In the next five minutes it seemed my life had become a confusing mess as these kind policemen told me that my father had been killed in a road accident on the Mornington Peninsula six hours earlier on the way to his work.

“My mind was confused, my mouth was dry, I was trying to make sense of something that had just overwhelmed me,” Newitt said.

The stewards asked Newitt if he would like to forgo his rides but the former Tasmanian said, no, he wanted the ride in the Futurity Stakes in memory of his father.

His ride, Light Fantastic, was beaten in a narrow photo finish and Newitt didn’t regain his thought processes until he slumped in a chair at his home after the Caulfield meeting.

“I spoke to him every day. Dad would never miss or I would never miss making contact. That’s why I was worried that morning,” he said.

Newitt looked around at his young family and his riding gear from that day and knew that he had a pressing decision to make in the next two weeks.

“I thought Heart Of Dreams was close to a good thing in the Australian Guineas at Flemington in a fortnight’s time, but it was a matter of convincing Mick Price that my mind was in a proper place for such a race.

“It hit me that Dad had not only been a dad but a friend, a mentor and a motivator. He would have said, ‘take the ride at Flemington and do it in memory of me, but your life will not stop even after what happened’,” Newitt said.

Heart of Dreams raced away with the Australian Guineas that year in an emotional win, in the same race Newitt had won a year earlier on Light Fantastic.

Following this success, personal difficulties in his marriage prompted a return to Tasmania where he only rode on Saturdays.

“Unfortunately, my marriage ended. I had to rally and take stock of my life. I was in my early 30s and with my marriage now over and the courts granting me full custody of my four boys, I decided to make another go of it [in Victoria].

“But racing had moved on. Victoria had become a tough, hard environment for jockeys and I was stunned to see the likes of Oliver and Williams riding on Sundays which was usually reserved for the middle order.”

Newitt quickly carved out a living in Melbourne, however, despite the state being highly competitive. He had two great advantages on his side.

He could ride light, and he rode with the whip in the left hand – always an amazing advantage over other jockeys.

He’s ridden in 10 Lexus Melbourne Cups and has been at the top of the Melbourne Group 1 list for jockeys for decades now.

Now, at 36, Newitt has a settled home life, a good steady flow of rides and a new partner.

With all of these ducks in line, it is not out of the question that a third Australian Guineas may not be far away.

Did you know?
As a teenager, Craig Newitt played football on a Saturday morning until three-quarter time, then would take a full book of rides at the races that afternoon. It was a tough choice between AFL and racing, but the gifted young sportsman decided to pursue a life in the saddle. It paid off when he was named the Apprentice of the Year at just 15 and then at 16 won both the apprentices and the overall premiership in Tasmania.

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