54 years of marriage, seven children, 16 grand children and three great grandchildren is a fair achievement by anyone’s measure but Gerry and Rose Kleeven could add a TAB Melbourne Cup to their already extraordinary lives tonight at Sandown Park.
The world’s richest greyhound race – worth $600,000 – could be the ultimate birthday present for Gerry as his 72nd birthday falls \today. Incidentally his wife Rose celebrated her birthday last week – the night of the heats of the Melbourne Cup. Victory would make the fairytale complete.
Luca Neveelk is named after one of the Denison couple’s grandchildren, and he is bred from the Kleeven’s own bloodline. His mother, It’s a Neveelk – or ‘Mia’ – lives inside their house and loves nothing more than sleeping on her rug in the living room.
Despite Luca Neveelk boasting the superb record of 22 wins from just 27 starts, Gerry says that he doesn’t have any expectations going into tonight’s race, as there are seven other greyhounds of enormous talent chasing the $420,000 first prize.
“I don’t get nervous with him,” Gerry said “I know that he’ll put in his best effort as he does in every race. He will be right up there with the leaders on the first turn.
“I’m happy winning any race whether it’s at Sale, Traralgon or anywhere. Our greyhounds owe us nothing and all this is just a little bit extra for us.”
Gerry remembers a time when Rose wasn’t as complimentary about greyhound racing but says that now she is the most important part of the retired couples’ operation.
When the Kleevens breed a litter Rose delivers them and she has a major involvement with them growing up. Even on race days Rose often performs the role of ‘catcher’, which involves gathering the greyhounds from the catching pen after a race.
“She’s been the backbone of the whole show and has been right behind me the whole time…she adores the dogs and couldn’t live without them,” Gerry said.
Luca Neveelk won the Group 2 Geelong Cup in October, the biggest victory of the Kleeven’s near 40-year association with greyhound racing. In recent years, the Geelong Cup has been a great indicator for the Melbourne Cup with 2011 winner Dyna Tron and 2013 winner Black Magic Opal winning the double, while in 2012 Hurunui Hitman won the Geelong Cup and ran third in the Melbourne Cup.
Geelong Cup night saw Luca Neveelk snare a $45,000 first prize, the biggest payday of the Kleevens’ lives. That figure can multiply by almost 10 if he wins tonight.
Luca Neveelk is one punters want as well. Opening at $26.00 after drawing box seven, he is now into $16.00.
The Kleevens will make the two-and-a-half hour journey from their Gippsland home to Sandown tonight in their humble station wagon with ‘Luca’ sleeping in the back. They could be driving home with nearly half a million dollars and a greyhound worthy of champion status.