Trainer Robert Neocleous is hopeful that the recent improvement of his greyhound Blackjack Neo (pictured, pink rug) will continue in tomorrow night’s $12,000 to-the-winner tab.com.au Grade 5 Final (600m) at The Meadows at 9.20pm.
Having won four of his past five starts including his last three on end, Blackjack Neo is rated the third favourite at $4.60 by form analyst, The Watchdog behind Barooga Brett ($2.80) and Lila Bale ($4.50).
Blackjack Neo trailed by six lengths in his heat before overpowering a front-running Barooga Brett to win in 34.55sec.
“Blackjack Neo has won his past three, all in the city, so he’s in form, and he just needs a clear run going into the first turn tonight,” Neocleous said.
“I’m expecting Barooga Brett to lead again, and if Lila Bale jumps out (of the boxes) like she did in her heat she’ll be hard to beat as well, but she doesn’t always begin that quickly.”
Lila Bale was easily the quickest heat winner last weekend in 34.17sec before dropping back in distance to run sixth at Sandown Park two nights ago over the 515m.
Neocleous said that with a short run into the first corner from the 600m boxes, the first 50 metres of the race will tell the story about Blackjack Neo’s chances.
“Blackjack Neo has been beginning a bit better in his past six starts which has seen him grow in confidence. Early on in his career he would jump out two lengths last, but not anymore,” the Hazelwood North trainer said.
“He has great race sense and, touch wood, he knows how to keep out of trouble and weave his way through a field. At the half way point of his races he finds another gear and he motors home. If he is sitting third or thereabouts once he gets around the first corner on Saturday night, he’ll be in with a real chance.”
Neocleous and wife Wendy bred Blackjack Neo, who is a son of Cosmic Rumble and Ruby Haha. He has long been living in the shadow of his litter sister Neo Cleo, who is one of Victoria’s premier middle-distance chasers.
“There were five pups in the litter and all five are city winners. Neo Cleo is the standout in the litter. She has won 10 of her last 12 starts, with nine of those wins being in the city, while she also broke the track record at Traralgon over 595m. In the last three or four weeks the litter has won nine city races between them. We pinch ourselves sometimes,” he said.
Neocleous said little separated Blackjack Neo and Neo Cleo in terms of ability.
“Neo Cleo has won a lot more races (22 from 46) than Blackjack Neo (14 from 45) because she gets out in front, but time-wise there’s not a lot between them,” Neocleous said.
Incidentally, Ruby Haha came on season this week, with Neocleous favouring a repeat mating.
“We’re going to send her back to Cosmic Rumble, because if it isn’t broken, why fix it? This will be her third litter so hopefully we have similar success,” he said.
“Her first litter to Magic Sprite produced plenty of winners including McNeo (16 wins), but her Cosmic Rumble litter has exceeded our expectations.”
WATCH: Blackjack Neo (5) powers home to defeat Barooga Brett in his heat last Saturday night at The Meadows.