Graham Neill and Jenora after a win at Otaki last month. Photo: Royden Williams Photography.
Veteran Blenheim trainer Graham Neill will sign off on a 56-year career in the harness industry with three final runners at Manawatu Raceway in Palmerston North on Thursday.
“I’m retiring as a trainer on the first of April,” said Neill.
“This is my swansong.”
Stable star Monaro Mia, third in last week’s New Zealand Trotting Oaks at Addington, has stopped in for one last start in Neill’s colours before heading north to a new stable.
“She’s on her way up to Cambridge to be trained by Nicky Chilcott.”
Neill’s other exciting prospect, pacing filly Jenora, is also heading to Cambridge after Thursday night’s meeting, from which she has been scratched, and she will link with Mike Berger.
“Mike is a good man with the fillies and he’ll do a good job with her, I reckon.”
Rounding out Neill’s team will be the trotter Rarangi Opal and his final ever starter, Show Business.
Good friend and stable helper Merv Bryers, who drove his first winner in 1971 and last winner in 1992, will pilot Show Business.
Neill, 81, says the time is right to focus on his Marlborough vineyard and “do something else for a wee while” after being a licensed trainer since 1967.
But he hopes to keep his hand in the game as an owner of Jenora, and plans on taking a trip to Cambridge in early June to watch Monaro Mia in the Harness Jewels.
He looks back on his 92 winners fondly, especially on his good pacer of the early 1990s, Nyrod.
“He won a four-year-old series at Forbury Park and that was a pretty big highlight for me when I think back.”
Neill points to Nyrod (seven wins) as his favourite horse, but others of note were Dalton Invasion (eight), Speedy Falcon (five), Miss Middleton (six), Dashwood Star (four) and Lady Bess (five), the latter two sold to America in their prime.
Monaro Mia’s mother, Monaro Miss, was a stable favourite, winning seven from 108 starts and, like her daughter probably will, raced in the Harness Jewels, in 2007.
“I’ve had some nice trotters along the way, many that I can’t think of off-hand, but she (Monaro Mia) has the potential to be as good as any of them.”
The daughter of Imperial Count has struggled with standing starts in her career to date, often mounting big recoveries after early mis-steps.
A start behind the mobile in the Trotting Oaks brought immediate returns, but it is back to a standing start this week in the hands of Sailesh Abernethy.
“The mobile has certainly helped her.
“I have given her a fair bit of standing start practice but she just wants to get on with the job and doesn’t think what she’s doing.”
Jenora would have gone around close to favourite in her field after a good effort in strong company at Addington last week, but has had to be scratched after getting kicked in the float.