In terms of courage, it’s said: “Fate loves the fearless.”
And in that respect, Weblec Ace epitomises such fortitude and gallantry!
Early in December last year, while contesting a Ballarat Cup heat, Weblec Ace injured a right hind back muscle and was sent back to his South Australian part-owner Neville Loechel, 68, for rehabilitation.
Unfortunately, not long after, he ran into a shrub which snapped off and speared into his shoulder causing a deep laceration which severed a vein.
Loechel said “he was bleeding profusely, and the wound required veterinary treatment”. Subsequently, it further delayed his return to the racetrack.
Trained by Jeff Britton, Weblec Ace finally resumed at Horsham on April 21 with a best-of-day 23.11sec win over 410m at Horsham. However, shortly after, he contracted canine gastroenteritis and was off the scene for seven weeks.
But ‘fingers crossed’, he’s been at the top of his game since resuming a second time.
Weblec Ace (Sep ’17 Kinloch Brae x Weblec Rose) has won 14 races from 31 starts – including last year’s G3 Cranbourne Classic (520m). He’s also won five of his past 10 starts.
But last week, he made an auspicious middle-distance debut when second to champion kennelmate True Detective in a McKenna Memorial heat (595m) at Sandown.
WATCH: Weblec Ace (7) finishes a gallant second to True Detective (1) in a McKenna Memorial heat (595m) at Sandown last week.
Consequently, Loechel gives Weblec Ace a good chance against a star-studded field in tomorrow night’s $25,000-to-the-winner final.
“When he raced prior to the injuries, all he wanted to do was crash straight to the rail. But now he’s running in a straighter line,” he said. “He’s always been competitive, but now he’s really thinking during a race. He’s so much smarter, it’s hard to believe he’s the same dog.”
However, Loechel says Weblec Ace (Box 6) would have been a better chance if he had drawn from box three inwards.
“Anyway, we don’t bet. We just love greyhounds and the people we meet in the sport,” he added.
Loechel part-owns Weblec Ace with lifelong friend Jeffrey Weber and his brother Gavin.
And he says Weber often quips: “Fritz (Loechel’s nickname), it’s not about the money it’s about the fun. But it’s just a lot more fun when we win the prizemoney.”
Loechel’s intermittent involvement in greyhound racing harks back more than half a century.
“My dad (Frank) had coursing dogs when I was probably around 12 years old,” he said. “But I was around 30 when I started buying two pups at a time from Jane McNicholl.” (Ironically, Weblec Ace was bred by the iconic SA breeder.)
However, Loechel had a 15-year hiatus from the sport from his early 40s.
“I was paying off a 3000-acre farm north of Karoonda, principally producing barley and wheat and running Merino sheep,” he said. “I also had family commitments, particularly taking our three daughters to and from sport.”
But it was Weber, who talked him into getting back into the sport around 10 years ago.
I’ve known the Weber family for many years, particularly through sport,” Loechel said. “Initially, I played tennis with Jeff’s dad and brother, and eventually teamed up with Jeff.”
And for the past decade they have been a formidable team in greyhound racing.
“Greyhounds just fascinate me – particularly their nature and personality,” Loechel added. “And now I’ve got three beautiful granddaughters – Elouise, 12, Jorja, 10, and Macie, 2 – who are really passionate about greyhounds.”
Loechel and Weber also formed a greyhound racing relationship with Britton and partner Angela Langton while Weblec Ace’s dam, Weblec Rose, and her litter sister, Weblec Belle, were being educated at Kevin McNamara’s property in Majorca.
“Kevin told us they were city class and put us in touch with Jeff and Angela and the relationship has blossomed from there,” Loechel said. “It’s been a blessing in my retirement as the success of our greyhounds has allowed me to build a nice five-acre hobby greyhound rearing centre at Caloote.”
Loechel still has Weblec Belle and Weblec Rose at his property. And he also part-owns Weblec Ace’s sibling, Weblec Jack (a finalist in last year’s G1 Vic Peters Classic), with his brother Robin and Weber.
In a genetic quirk, Weblec Ace hails from a litter of seven (4 dogs, 3 bitches) who are all brindle in colour.
And Loechel also has a six-month-old litter of 10 (7 dogs, 3 bitches) – a Kinloch Brae x Weblec Rose repeat mating – who incredibly are all brindle!
Tomorrow night’s G2 McKenna Memorial final (595m) at Sandown is Race 5 at 7.37pm.
Pawnote: Loechel is displaying similar intestinal fortitude to Weblec Ace. He is recuperating after having a right knee replacement a few weeks ago.
Loechel has also had his left knee and left hip replaced, and says his right hip is ‘on the blink’.