Neeson makes perfect start to southern sojourn

Neeson gets up in the final stride to score a last-to-first victory at Riccarton Photo credit: Race Images South

Consistent galloper Neeson got his autumn campaign in the South Island off to the perfect start when he stormed home to claim the Seaton Family Memorial Hororata Gold Cup (1800m) at Riccarton on Saturday. Prepared by Stephen McKee from his Ardmore base in South Auckland, the O’Reilly six-year-old was having his first run since finishing midfield behind Joe’s Legacy in the Listed Kaimai Stakes (2000m) at Matamata last month.

McKee had trekked south with the gelding at this time last season where he won one of his three starts and was keen to follow a similar path as he believes the 1800m contests raced at Riccarton are an ideal distance for his charge. “He tends to find 1600m a little sharp for him at this stage of his career and 2000m can be a bit too far so he is a difficult horse to place,” McKee said. “Those 1800m races they run down there seem to suit him well so I spoke with his owners and we agreed to send him down.”

McKee, who was at home watching the race on television after not being able to head south due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions, was tearing his hair out early in the piece after Neeson dropped out to last as pacemaker Camino Rocoso set a hot speed up front. Rider Samantha Wynne didn’t panic and slowly made ground on the front runners before moving to the extreme outside early in the run home.

Eventual runner-up Diorissimo had charged to the front at the 300m but Neeson produced a resolute finish to collar her in the final strides with local runner Pinup Coup closing strongly for third. “I’d spoken to Sam before the race and agreed the best place to be would be up tracking the speed somewhere as we knew Camino Rocoso would try and string things out at some stage,” McKee said.

“When I saw him back last, I was thinking we were no show as I just didn’t think he could make up the sort of ground he was standing them up with 600m to run. “She got him in the best part of the track and he really finished off nicely so maybe we have found a new way to ride him.”

McKee will wait to see how his charge comes through the race before deciding on his next start but he is likely to contest some of the middle-distance features at Riccarton over the next two months. Riccarton trainer Andrew Carston saddled Neeson on McKee’s behalf, given McKee was unable to be on-course.

Raced by Daniel Nakhle and his father Elias, Neeson is out of their outstanding racemare Irish Colleen who won seven races including the Group 2 Concorde (1200m) at Avondale. Neeson has now won seven races himself and has also been placed on another 14 occasions from his 40 career starts.