After training greyhounds for more than four decades, Gerry Kleevan has a one in eight chance of taking out the nation’s most coveted trophy, the Group One Melbourne Cup, at Sandown Park this Friday night.
Kleeven puts the polish on lid pinger Luca Neveelk, a winner of 22 races from just 27 starts, including this year’s Group Two Geelong Cup. The blue chaser was impressive in his heat performance last Thursday, in a race which saw him debut at Sandown, holding off a late challenge from Dream It to score in a fast 29.42.
Although tiring in the home straight, Kleeven feels that Luca Neveelk can only get stronger, with his heat win just his second start over 500 metres. At his first attempt over the 500, Luca Neveelk tired to finish third in the Group Three Silver Bullet at The Meadows behind Keybow, a fellow contender for the Melbourne Cup.
“I’ve kept him over the 400-460 metres because there has been good short course races on for him, like the Geelong Cup, so there was never a reason to go over the 500”, Kleeven explained.
“His brothers can run 500 quite easily so I can’t see why he shouldn’t. The Melbourne Cup and the Silver Bullet probably came on a bit too quick for me, but he has acquitted himself well so it doesn’t really matter. I think he will be a lot better for the heat run.
“I would be very surprised if he doesn’t get stronger. If you look at his early sections he is up there with the best of them and on Thursday it was only in the last ten yards that he got a bit tired.”
Luca Neveelk’s best trait is undoubtedly his blistering early speed. Despite being drawn out in box seven in Friday’s $420,000 to the winner feature, Kleeven thinks that he has enough early toe to put himself right into calculations.
“I reckon he can get across and I like him out there. It depends on what the pink (Dyna Villa) does but he (Luca Neveelk) is a pretty big dog so the pink shouldn’t push him out of the way. He just needs clear room in the first one or two strides and then he has got that massive early pace.
“Whatever gets out in front will win, there is no two ways about it, because you have got seven other dogs with equal ability behind you and they usually all look to go to the rails and they will be in a bunch. If you are lucky enough to get to the front I’d imagine you would be laughing.”
Kleeven says that Luca Neveelk, which ran a slick 5.00 to the first mark, still missed the kick a fraction in his heat. He knows that his charge will definitely have to be in front at the first turn this week to be in with a winning shot.
“On Thursday he didn’t begin as well as he normally does, probably because it was his first time there, but once he hit the ground away he went. It will be a different story on Friday night because he is running against seven others that are as good, if not better, than him.
“It’ll all come down to the start, if he can get in a good position up in the lead he will have the show.”
Gerry and his wife Rose bred Luca Neveelk, a son of Talk’s Cheap, from their handy racer It’s A Neveelk. Gerry said it is a huge thrill to have bred the dog himself and rates him as the best that he has trained.
“I’ve been in dogs for 40 odd years and I have always bred my own dogs. We have had a fair bit of success, we had Nitro Neveelk who made the final of the National Sprint in Victoria, and we have been very blessed with some of our dogs.
“It is a great feeling to breed them yourself because you have got to wait 18 months to find out if they are any good, we have been very lucky in that sense.
“I always thought Nitro Neveelk was the best. Classic Neveelk was another real good dog, but I think this bloke is a bit better.
“He is an ultimate professional and a joy to handle. His brothers are completely different, they jump around and carry on, but he doesn’t, he knows what he has to do and when the race is over he knows he has done the job.”
Knowing that Luca Neveelk always goes out and does his best, Gerry says that he never feels nervous handling his star sprinter.
“He is the first dog that I have never been nervous with. Other dogs you wonder what they are going to do but with him I am as calm as a cucumber, it’s a great feeling.”
It would be a terrific birthday present for Gerry and Rose if their blue powerhouse were to land the cash in the final.
It was Rose’s birthday last Thursday, the night Luca Neveelk won his heat and earned himself a ticket into the Melbourne Cup final, and it will be Gerry’s birthday this Friday, the night that their dynamic greyhound chases nearly half a million dollars in prize money.
Win, lose or draw, being a part of the prestigious event is present enough for the Kleevens who are feeling thankful for the amazing journey that Luca Neveelk has already taken them on.
“It would be absolutely colossal to win it but it is just a really nice feeling, for the dog and the breed, to be in it.
“Hopefully he can get a bit of luck and be good enough to do it. If not, so be it.
“It wont be the end of the world. He has given us a terrific ride along the way, it has just been unbelievable.”