By Jon Lees
Australia: Just twelve months after playing a key part in the Magic Millions success of Away Game for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, Australian-based Annabel Neasham is hoping for a repeat – this time on her own.
Starts are not easily gained in the A$2 million (£1.14m) Magic Millions Two Year Old Classic, restricted to horses bought at the Magic Millions sale, but just six months into her new career as a trainer in her own right, British expat Neasham is set to have two runners at the Gold Coast in Queensland on January 16.
“I have definitely aimed for this,” says Neasham, 30. “There are only 16 starters and there were 1,200 catalogued. To get two in it from such a large pool of horses, we’ve certainly struck lucky.
“I’ve got a colt and a filly, Ghostwriter and Queen Of Wizardry. Queen Of Wizardry booked her spot when she won at Eagle Farm on debut last weekend,” she goes on.
“Ghostwriter has had three starts, won his first start at Doomben and although his last start was not ideal, he has been working well and seems to be back on track.”
Neasham, from Croughton in Northamptonshire, spent four years with Maher and Eustace and latterly ran the Sydney arm of their training operation, of which Away Game was a member.
In July she announced she would branch out on her own from a base at Warwick Farm racecourse. The following month her first runner Commanding Missile was also her first winner; she has now trained ten winners at a 28% strike-rate.
With major owners Aquis Farm among her main backers, Neasham has recently taken charge of a number of horses from Chris Waller, including the 2018 French 2,000 Guineas winner Olmedo. Prague, who won a G3 last year under Tom Marquand for Maher and Eustace, has also joined the stable.
Mind you, it wasn’t necessarily how she planned things. “The boxes didn’t come available ’til June,” says Neasham. “It’s very hard to get boxes in Sydney but I knew if I was going to train I wanted to train in the city. Aquis pledged to support me as well so that was a big help.
”I’ve got just over 40 in work and I’ve just managed to secure the stables next door as well so will have room for 53. With the sales coming up I will need that little bit of growing space.”
Running her own training operation in New South Wales has not been the culmination of any long-term plan for Neasham, who came into the sport via the showjumping, eventing and point-to-pointing spheres in England.
She went to Australia for a six-month working holiday with Gai Waterhouse and, after joining Maher and Eustace, has not returned.
“I thought I would come out for a year and go back,” she says. “It’s a bit surreal really. I am not from a horse background – my Mum is a midwife and my Dad is a lawyer!
“The fact I am training in Sydney probably wasn’t scripted but it is where I have landed and I am absolutely loving it. I’ve always enjoyed being hands on with horses through eventing a lot. I think if I had stayed back home I would have gone down the jumping route.”
Neasham’s other big achievement was winning the world’s most gruelling race, the Mongol Derby, a 1,000km endurance race on horseback across the Mongolian steppe. She completed it in six days after encountering monsoon rain, fog, heat and floods.
“It was an amazing experience,” she recalls. “I was praying I didn’t get a sick bug, which a lot of people got. I got good advice from David Redvers to make sure I purified my water and to be careful what I ate. I just drank water and took four cereal bars which lasted me.
“Hopefully I can win a 2,400m Derby rather than a 1,000km Derby one day!”
She is on the right path with Queen Of Wizardry and Ghostwriter helping put her in the spotlight. “It will be good to have runners in the Magic Millions,” she says. “Neither are favourite but the filly [Queen Of Wizardry] is fourth or fifth favourite.”
Covid-19 restrictions may preclude her visiting the Gold Coast, however. “I’m possibly not going to be there because the border may be shut, which would be a shame for my first runners,” she says.
“But I think it’s a very open year. It’s often ferociously run and there often are horses that don’t see out the six furlongs. If they go quick the filly probably won’t have the speed to be up on the pace but in that case it wouldn’t surprise me to see her storming over the top of them.
“Luke Currie rides Ghostwriter, which is a handy booking because he won on Away Game and has won two of the last three.
“Stephanie Thornton rides Queen Of Wizardry, who is a girls’ horse,” she adds. “The filly is owned by Loretta Fung and Lizzie Jelfs, who is an English TV presenter here – and there is a A$500,000 (£285,000) bonus incentive for all female-owned horses, which is split up between the first four to finish.
“So she is trained by a girl, owned by girls and will be ridden by a girl. Hopefully we can be the first all-girl team to win the Magic Millions.”