'The opportunity to come here was just too good to refuse' Leith Innes has long harboured an ambition to ride in Hong Kong but can scarcely believe his good fortune that the dream has so quickly become a reality. Innes, 26, is New Zealand's reigning champion jockey, having snared his first jockeys' premiership last year as the principal rider for Paul O'Sullivan. 'I was fortunate to have a very good run over the past two years, not only in terms of winners but feature races as well,' Innes said yesterday. 'I've won 15 group or listed races over the past 12 months and I have to thank the Hong Kong Jockey Club for taking notice of that. 'Normally, jockeys in New Zealand don't get recognised unless they have performed in Australia, so I feel very privileged indeed to be invited here.' Those feature races include an amazing sequence of five wins and two seconds from eight rides on New Zealand's best weight-for-age horse at the moment, St Reims, who is an intended starter in the $14 million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2,000 metres) at Sha Tin on April 24. 'I also rode the AJC Derby winner Starcraft when he came to New Zealand last August, and won the group one Mudgway Stakes on him, which was a big thrill,' Innes said. 'My other major win for the season was Ambitious Owner in the [group one] Bayer Classic.' In coming to ride for the third semester of the Hong Kong season, Innes has had to sacrifice the chance to retain his title as New Zealand's champion rider. 'I am lying second on the premiership, only five off the lead, and was naturally keen to win the title again,' he said. 'But the opportunity to come to Hong Kong was just too good to refuse.' Innes has picked up four rides on Sunday's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby programme and is delighted that the journey has begun so positively. He will handle the admirable General Kingy (race three) and his class three stablemate Lucky Dice in the 10th for trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai, as well as top-weight Agility (race nine) for Sean Woods. He also scored a late pick-up ride when Danny Shum Cha-shing decided to back-up with Wednesday night's Happy Valley failure Joy Trumps. 'I only arrived earlier this week, so getting four rides from three different stables at my first meeting is a good result,' Innes said bullishly. The Kiwi declared he is 'totally focused' on his Hong Kong tour of duty and has engaged the support of his wife of two years, Michelle Wenn, who is also a successful jockey in their homeland. Innes learned first-hand the difficulties of family separation during one of his stints in Singapore in 2001-02, when he rode 24 winners, and was keen to ensure Michelle travelled with him. Casual racegoers and professionals alike should be impressed with Innes. He is tall by jockey standards but is beautifully balanced and is equally adept at hands-and-heels riding, or something more vigorous. And he's renowned, at home, for judgment of pace. He's also been learning about Hong Kong at a prodigious rate, discovering the expanses of Sha Tin and the notorious quirks of the city venue. With a new computer and a broadband connection, he aims to accelerate his knowledge of the local horses as well. 'I know how important it is, to study the form and the racing videos,' Innes said. 'As I said earlier, it's a privilege to be here and I'm not taking the opportunity for granted. I'm looking forward to meeting more Hong Kong people and creating as many good relationships as I can while I'm here.'