2015 Australian Cup hero Luca Neveelk was a member of the Kleeven family in name and nature.
Rose Kleeven says Luca Neveelk – Neveelk is Kleveen spelled backwards – never got over the death of her husband Gerry last year, believing a broken heart contributed to the recent passing of the once-in-a-lifetime sprinter.
Rose lost Gerry, her husband of sixty years, last October, and has now bid farewell to homebred pride and joy Luca Neveelk as a result of a serious shoulder injury but she has a multitude of fond memories of a trainer and his beloved canine mate.
“Luca never got over losing Gerry,” said Rose.
“He injured his shoulder but I think he had a broken heart too.
“Gerry and I had our 60th anniversary on the 16th of September last year and Gerry died on 2nd of October. ‘Mia’ (It’s A Neveelk), the mother of ‘Luca’, died ten days later.
“When I moved to where I’m living now I wasn’t able to have ‘Luca’ there so he lived with our son Paul. Whenever he came to visit me he would lie in front of the lounge or hop up on my bed.
“He fretted for Gerry and he fretted for me. He was part of the family, we bred him, I was there when he was born and looked after them all as pups. That was my job. He was such a beautiful dog.”
“I was really glad that Dad finally got the recognition he deserved for being a good trainer. He didn’t have great dogs but gee he got the best out of them and when he finally got a really good one he turned it into a superstar.”
The Kleevens spent the best part of 50 years in the sport waiting for Luca Neveelk but it was worth every minute.
It’s one of those racing stories that was meant to be, with Luca Neveelk’s mother, It’s A Neveelk, amazingly the product of an accidental mating between Nitro Neveelk and Bigbad Leesa.
“It was one hell of a ride,” said Paul Kleeven, who owned Luca Neveelk.
“Winning the Australian Cup was an unforgettable night with the whole family there and family was a huge part of everything.
“I used to drive Mum and Dad to the races, for all the country cups and up to Sydney for the Golden Easter Egg, and it was a great opportunity to spend some quality time with them and share the rollercoaster of emotions whether he won or lost.
“I was really glad that Dad finally got the recognition he deserved for being a good trainer. He didn’t have great dogs but gee he got the best out of them and when he finally got a really good one he turned it into a superstar.
“One of my favourite memories came when Luca first started racing and I wanted to sell pups from the next litter but Dad being Dad told me I was getting carried away and nobody would buy them.
“Then I got a call from someone wanting to buy the whole litter, including a male dog I didn’t really want to sell, and it was Tony Lockett! Tony said the money would be in the bank that afternoon and he was true to his word. It was quite funny.”
Luca Neveelk opened his feature race account in the 2014 G2 Geelong Cup, followed by the G2 Ballarat Cup and then a career-defining victory in the G1 Australian Cup in March 2015.
He also ran second in the G2 Warragul Cup and third in the G3 Silver Bullet and qualified for the G1 Melbourne Cup and G2 Bendigo Cup finals.
His record of 29 wins from 48 starts, being unplaced on just seven occasions, was phenomenal, while he earned $518,450 in prizemoney.
“I have a lot of great memories and I’ve got the Australian Cup!” Rose said proudly.
“He won 10 in a row at one stage. He knew when he was racing. He knew what he was there to do and if he got beaten he would sulk all the way home.
“I’ve got a photo of Gerry and Luca that is looking at me whenever I’m sitting in the lounge room.
“I really miss him. Both of them.”
WATCH: Luca Neveelk (4) wins the G1 Australian Cup, providing inspiration to greyhound breeders all over the state.
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