AT THE time it was the furthest outcome from his mind, but hitting rock bottom has been a blessing in disguise for Leigh Sutton.
After falling as low as he can professionally, Sutton returned to driving in Penrith last night “a new man”.
Enjoying a social drink or 10 more times than he cares to admit, Sutton’s career as a reinsman came to a screeching halt in Bathurst last July.
After knocking back a few friendlies at Tabcorp Park Menangle the previous night, Sutton made his first mistake when he skipped breakfast the following morning.
Error number two was swapping any real sustenance for “a couple of V cans”.
Third on Sutton’s list of lapsed judgements was arriving to drive at Bathurst while still intoxicated.
Given a breathalyser test by stewards, Sutton registered a reading of .095 – not only well over the industry’s acceptable standard of .02, but outside the legal limit of .05!
A subsequent inquiry into Sutton’s action saw him suspended for six months and ordered to complete sessions with a Harness Racing New South Wales-approved alcohol counselor.
It was a massive blow for a man with a young family, let alone the fact he was enjoying his best season in the cart.
“I was burnt out, cooked,” Sutton explained. “I had a drive at Menangle on Saturday night in the first, had a few too many at the bar afterwards and didn’t really eat, including in the morning.
“I did have a couple of V cans instead and when I got to Bathurst I was over the limit.
“It wasn’t intentional and I certainly didn’t feel like I was being affected by alcohol, so it was a wakeup call to just how it can stay in your system and affect you without you truly knowing it.”
Becoming “dirty on the world” when the gravity of his situation sunk in, Sutton was soon made to realise he had no one else to blame but himself.
In fact, tough love from his wife, Tiarn, soon had Sutton focusing on his demons and searching for ways to improve himself.
“I was gutted when it happened,” Sutton said. “I sulked for a while, but Tiarn wouldn’t let me dwell in pity.
“I never tried to blame anyone else, but she basically reminded me I had no one else to blame and I put myself in that situation…I did it and I had to wear it.
“I’m sure she was pretty angry with me, but to her credit, she never really let me know, but rather made me focus on why it happened and what I had to do about it.
“I also had good support from friends who stopped me from falling in a hole.
“It could’ve been worse without the support, which includes Harness Racing New South Wales with the counsellor and so on.”
Enter Aaron Goadsby.
Although Goadbsy is a fellow industry participant, he was somewhat of a stranger to Sutton.
Despite having little knowledge of each other, Goadbsy arranged a job as a courier for Sutton.
“I never really knew Aaron outside of saying ‘hello mate, how’s it going?’ when I would bump into him at the track,” Sutton said. “Yet as the General Manager of a company, he helped get the job for me as a driver.
“I run mine parts from Sydney to all over New South Wales and can be on call to head anywhere at almost any time.
“Ironically, I’m on a breathalyser more now that I’m not drinking as my job as a driver requires me to steer away from it.
“When you’re delivering items to mine sites they breathalyser you to make sure you’re clean and sober as you’re entering.
“I’m loving life, loving my job and while I wish it never happened, being suspended like I was is probably the best thing that has happened in a long time.”
Scraping off a bit of ‘ring rust’ when partnering outsider Attacknrhythm in his first drive back, Sutton then made a “satisfying” return to the winners’ circle with his second outing on the card.
Angled into the clear around the home bend, Team Of Starzzz caused an upset when he sprinted away from the pack to score from Everything Happens and Ohoka Royal in 1:56 over 1720 metres.
Fittingly the son of Four Starzzz Shark is trained by Tiarn.
“It was great to be back out on the track and to get a win on my first night is terrific,” Sutton said. “It was even better winning with one trained by Tiarn.”
Still allowing himself an occasional ‘frothy’, Sutton’s new found wisdom has made him aware of his limits, so much so that celebrations are even kept to a minimum.
“I’m remorseful for what I did and it certainly won’t happen again,” Sutton said. “The days of having too many are behind me.
“After a hot day I will open a beer, but I’ve given up the social drinking.
“I didn’t even have one to celebrate last night’s win and it didn’t make the moment any less enjoyable!”