It almost didn’t happen. After more than 40 years in the sport hoping for a Cup victory illness threatened to ruin the night. Gerald Kleeven had to drag himself off his sick bed to handle Luca Neveelk in the Geelong Cup tonight.
It was a display of strength and determination from the trainer as much as the greyhound. As Gerry lay in the car struck down with gastro, wife Rose thought he may not be able to handle their prized greyhound in the Cup.
Despite his illness, Gerry gathered the strength to not only handle in the Cup, but to handle the winner in the $64,000 feature.
“He was really sick all week and was lying down in the car before the races tonight,” Rose said.
“I didn’t know whether he would be able to handle tonight because he was unwell but he made it and we’re so happy.”
The Kleeven’s live in the quiet Gippsland town of Denison. Just the two of them, with their greyhounds. They have been training for more than 40 years and bred, own and train Gippsland’s finest greyhound, Luca Neveelk.
Rose remembers holding Luca as a puppy and says that there is something different about him. He knows when he’s done well, he knows when he’s not run his best race and he is thorough professional.
“He has this amazing desire to win,” Rose said “he is no fuss, when he comes to the races he knows what he’s there to do.
“When he’s in the boxes he just focusses on the lure and usually doesn’t put a paw wrong.”
The Kleeven’s are the quintessential team. No one else is allowed to handle Luca Neveelk but Gerry and no one else is allowed to catch him but Rose.
After the race, Gerry was full of emotion – showing no signs of illness – with a smile from ear-to-ear and a tear in his eye.
“I’m very, very happy, I can’t really describe it,” Gerry said.
“It’s funny, I don’t get nervous with him at all because I know that he will do everything right. Even before the Geelong Cup I wasn’t nervous.
“This is without a doubt the biggest win of our career and when I saw my family after the race I had a tear in my eye.”
Luca Neveelk (box five – $3.30) jumped beautifully to challenge for the early lead with eventual runner-up Top Secret (box one – $7.90) for Kelly Bravo. From there it was a battle of strength and the son of Talk’s Cheep and It’s A Neveelk was able to prevail while Peter Akathiotis’ Nockabout Aussie (box eight – $16.80) stormed home on the rail for third.
Gerald hinted that the TAB Melbourne Cup may be the greyhound’s next assignment, but admitted that he hadn’t thought that far ahead just yet.
Luca Neveelk’s career record now stands at 21 wins and two placings from 25 starts with the $45,000 first prize taking his career prize money beyond $100,000.
WATCH: Luca Neveelk wins the Geelong Cup
PIC: Rose and Gerry Kleeven with Luca Neveelk after the Geelong Cup