IT was four decades in the making, but Denison greyhound trainers Gerry and Rose Kleeven finally landed their first group one when their brilliant sprinter Luca Neveelk won the Australian Cup in Melbourne on Saturday night.
The sprinter led the 525 metre race at The Meadows from start to finish, holding off a determined Quartz Bale by just over half a length in 29.968 seconds with Hostile third.
“We’ve been waiting 40 years for this,” Rose quipped after the win.
The Kleevens’ 40 years in greyhound racing has comprised breeding a litter of pups every second year and rearing them up to racing age, before training them.
The Gippsland family always adhered to the philosophy of quality over quantity, resisting the temptation to breed more heavily even in times when their bloodline was firing and their pups would have been well and truly in demand.
Luca Neveelk was third favourite in betting at $4.50 behind Lamia Bale ($4.20) and Quartz Bale ($4.40), but he was clearly the sentimental favourite.
In fact, so loud were the post-race cheers that MC Rob Testa remarked, “This is undoubtedly one of the most popular winners in Australian Cup history”.
Although experienced breeder trainer Gerry Kleeven was as cool as ice in the lead-up to the big race, his calmness was overcome with enormous satisfaction and emotion after the win.
“I thought winning the Geelong Cup and the Ballarat Cup was good … but this is unbelievable,” he said.
“I was 99 per cent sure he’d lead and it was always a question of whether he’d hang on.”
“He’s not a genuine 500m dog, we all know that, but he is so calm and relaxed before and after his races.”
“I’ve never had a dog like him in 40 years. He’s so determined and he doesn’t like getting beaten.”
Luca Neveelk took his record to 27 wins and six placings from just 36 starts, while the $250,000 first prize took his career earnings to a tick over half a million dollars.
He will now be set for the rich group one Golden Easter Egg series at Wentworth Park in Sydney.