WA racing has a new trainer in the ranks, with former jockey Josh McLeod recently taking out his licence and now set to saddle-up his first runner at tomorrow’s Ascot meeting.
McLeod has acquired comeback galloper Falcon Crest, a winner of $514,830 and nine races — including three Listed events — and will step the eight-year-old out for his first start in 21 months when he lines up in the inaugural $100,000 Easingwold Stakes (1400m).
The Musket gelding won’t be the only one making a return to race-day duties, however, with McLeod having not participated in a race since his eight-year riding career finished in 2002.
“I started an apprenticeship with Warren Jeffreys back in the day and ended up finishing my apprenticeship with Colin Webster,” McLeod said.
“I rode for a couple years out of my time but had a decent race fall when I was apprenticed to Colin and moved down to Bunbury for a couple years.
“I tried to get my career going again but it never eventuated.
“I was lucky enough to have a little bit of success, but I wouldn’t say I had a great riding career or anything.
“I got down to a one-and-a-half kilo claim in the city and nothing in the country.”
A self-described ‘fringe’ jockey, McLeod took the advice of close mate and then-jockey Glenn Smith and his brother, Tony, when the pair told him he had to make a decision about the career path he wanted to take.
He then hung up his silks and moved into the mining industry, however, McLeod says he has still always maintained a close association with racing.
“I’ve never taken my finger off the pulse with it,” he said.
“Especially with the breeding side and especially having Glenn (Smith) still riding for most of the time.
“Brent Larsson, Michael Lane and those Bunbury boys I’ve always followed closely, too.”
Fast forward to 2019 and McLeod, who was initially based in South Yunderup before recently relocating to a property in Lake Clifton, saw Falcon Crest advertised online.
The gelding had been unofficially retired from racing after a 39-start career with three different trainers — Adam Durrant, Grant and Alana Williams and Steele Casey — and McLeod already knew the horse after having followed him when Smith rode him during a 2017 campaign.
“They had retired him and I saw him on a Facebook post saying, ‘free to a good home’,” McLeod said.
“I picked him up for my missus to have and go camp-drafting with because I have a little quarter horse stallion I do that with.
“I picked him up for free and didn’t plan on racing him, I didn’t even have a trainer’s licence, but then he dropped me a couple of times.
“Glenn said, ‘when he starts dropping you, he’s feeling good’.
“I’d been wanting to get a trainer’s licence, so I ended up his old owner and asked if he’d mind if I put him back in work.”
McLeod also plans to have his second runner, 11-start maiden Data Lake, race at Pinjarra on Thursday.
Irrespective of how his results over the coming week, however, McLeod says he doesn’t plan on expanding his numbers too much more in the future.
“I’ve only got three in work and I’ll never have more than five,” he said.
“I work full time at Alcoa, too, so the horses need to work in with my shift work.
“They work cattle as well.
“Eventually they’ll have a life after racing, so Falcon Crest works cattle and Data Lake works cattle.
“They do the lot.”
McLeod is hoping there is a case of divine intervention in tomorrow’s Easingwold Stakes after his grandfather, who was a former trainer in the Northern Territory and South Australia, sadly passed away on New Year’s Day.
He was the first owner McLeod had put into Falcon Crest when his race career was first resurrected and, in a fitting tribute, jockey Brad Rawiller will wear his old colours in the feature race.
“I’ll be nervous on the day but it’ll be good to have Brad jump on,” McLeod said.
“He’ll be able to give me some honest feedback which will be good for me.
“The horse still has to tell me this weekend that he wants to be a racehorse, otherwise I’ll just retire him and he’ll be a handy camp-draft horse.
“I even made a promise to him myself.
“I said, ‘if you win on Saturday, mate, you’re done for life’.
“He’s got a forever home here.”