KEVIN ‘BOOFA’ INNES
By Lucy McCormick
Kevin was a member of the celebrated Innes clan from Inglewood, in Central Victoria. “I think the first Innes’ came to Inglewood in 1851. My daughter used to say she can’t marry anyone from Inglewood, because she’s related to them all,” says Kevin.
‘Boofa’ is enjoying some well-earned relaxation on the couch after breaking a kneecap six or seven months ago in a track work incident. Not that it seems to be bothering him too much; he’s got plenty of time to keep up with the trots on television. “I do follow them,” Kevin says. “I don’t miss many, and I do have a bet. I like to sit in the chair and drive a race as much as anyone.”
With an illustrious career both as a trainer and in the sulky, it’s a safe bet that Kevin Innes is a more than handy ‘grandstand driver’. His name is associated as a trainer/driver with many handy horses, including Lea Sands, Imatoff and Stormy Morn to name a few.
Kevin is typically circumspect about his bigger triumphs, however that doesn’t seem to be what interests him the most. “I’ll tell you something,” he declares, doing just that, “I like winning with the horses that were no good. Some people never get a good horse. Imagine that. Luck is a very, very important thing. You have to have luck to buy a good horse at the sales, to get it going, keep it sound, find a race for it, find and owner and get a draw. And they still make a liar of you.”
Funny, interesting or quirky stories seem to be of greater interest to Kevin, such as the time he had a strong chance in a standing start race – the favourite in the race being his only worry. “I told the owner it only had a 20-metre handicap – I couldn’t beat it off that,” he remembers. “So I was leading, waiting for the favourite to run past me. Toward the finish, I heard it coming, and it ran straight past all right – minus the driver. He’d fallen out of the cart and I won the race. Just lucky.”
The Innes family have always been heavily involved in one sporting pursuit or another – Kevin himself being a champion bike rider of his time. “My Uncle Roy was a good bike rider, so he dared me to have a go. It turned out I was quite good at it as well.” So good, in fact that for many years Kevin was able to make a living from bike riding, riding the ‘board track’ for many years. “We trained hard. Bike riding was very big back then, we’d train and ride three or four times a week.”
Kevin’s riding career spanned four Herald Sun Tours, a Warrnambool to Melbourne and a Sydney to Melbourne race, to name a few. “It definitely gets you in – it was long hours,” he muses. “But like anything, horse racing included, you only get back what you put in. We trained hard. I never drank, and I still don’t. I’ve seen that many athletes, great ones too, brought down by alcohol.”
Lucky with injury too, Kevin can only remember a sore ankle – as well as the requisite scrapes and abrasions from tumbles on the wooden boards of the velodromes. He still enjoys watching all the big bike races when he can. “You can watch them race all over the world – France, Sweden, Germany. “To be honest I sit up and watch them with my son and we get just as much of a kick looking at the countryside than anything else. It’s so different to when I was racing.”
Betting on the bike racing was big in Kevin’s day as well, and some of the bookies Kevin saw betting on the bike racing, he saw at the Showgrounds betting on the trots on a Friday or Saturday night. “Racing was different back then. There would be twelve thousand people at the showgrounds – they don’t have to come anymore, it’s just as easy to watch it on the TV.” Kevin remembers in those days that drivers had to ‘weigh in’ as well – everyone who drove needed to weigh ten stone (just under 65 kilograms). It’s something he remembers fondly. “I know not everyone will.”
Kevin won’t be drawn on the subject of favourite drivers, either. “Look. Driving is different now. No disrespect to current drivers, but you had to think a lot more on a three furlong track than they do now on the bigger tracks. You had to drive with brains. And I really believe that good horses make good drivers. The horses are very good these days. Today’s drivers – your Gavin Langs, Chris Alfords – they’re thinkers, and brains will beat brawn every time. The girls are just as good now too. You only have to look at Kerryn Manning.”
A garrulous and popular character, Kevin has trained horses for the likes of legendary Richmond player Jack Dyer, and also spent his fair share of time hosting sportsman’s nights, holding his own with the likes of Ron Barassi. On one such night, they had flown in a light aircraft to their destination. During their show, Kevin noticed their pilot, sitting in the front row, laughing appreciatively. There was one problem. He had a beer in his hand, and was consuming it with some enthusiasm. As the night wore on, the pilot became more and more inebriated, and Kevin became more and more disturbed, knowing that this was the same pilot who was to fly them home when they finished. Unbeknownst to Kevin, however, the flight had been cancelled and the pilot hadn’t told anyone, instead deciding to take full advantage of his client’s hospitality.
For now, Kevin is happy living in Inglewood with partner Barbara. Son Grant and daughter Carla aren’t far away (both work at the Bendigo Harness track, and Carla has held both a trainer and driver’s licence). His granddaughter, Barclay Sands, was born on the same day of the demise of their star performer, Lea Sands, and may give the biggest hint yet just how important the world of harness racing is to Kevin ‘Boofa’ Innes.
Blue with white yolk
Kevin Innes embroidered on left side chest
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