By Josh Smith – Harness News Desk
Andrew Neal may have unearthed another star at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday night.
The Cambridge horseman, who trains in partnership with his wife Lyn, drove Alterior Motif to an emphatic six length victory in his 2200m contest and he believes there is still plenty of improvement left in the son of Sportswriter.
“He is still very green, he shied at a few things, but that is only natural for a first starter,” Neal said.
“We have had to trial him a few times and taken our time to let him mature, but he is a mature horse now and ready to go on with it.”
Neal was confident heading into the race given the gelding’s workout and trial performances, including qualifying in a solo heat over 2200m in 2.43.1.
“From the way he has qualified and trialled I thought he would be pretty hard to beat from his draw of three,” he said.
Neal was keen to try for the lead from his handy gate, however, Alterior Motif’s inexperience told and Neal had to gather in the promising pacer before pressing on for an early lead.
“He has got really good gate-speed, but he had a bit of stage fright,” Neal said.
“He went out and just put a little bobble in, because he still doesn’t know what he is doing, so I let Ferg (Peter Ferguson, driver) go across him rather than pushing him too much and risk breaking.
“I thought I would just come back out again and go around.”
Neal’s tactics paid off and his charge was too classy for his opposition, running away to an effortless victory.
Neal’s phone has been red-hot from interested parties after Thursday’s performance and he believes the talented gelding would suit a big, roomy track like Menangle.
“The phone has been ringing tonight with people wanting to buy him,” he said. “We will just see what happens, we don’t have to sell, but we will do whatever is best for the horse.
“I can just see him going out to Menangle, and on those big tracks, and rolling along. His mother was an American mare and that’s the sort of style of racing he is bred for.
“When he is going slow he is not going to be that attractive in the field, but when he is just rolling he is good.”
Alterior Motif is not the only quality three-year-old Neal has unearthed. In the early 2000s he had a golden run with Flight South and Where Eagles Dare.
Flight South broke through for her debut victory as a three-year-old at Te Aroha in 1999 and the following year she upset a star studded field that included the likes of Yulestar, Holmes DG, and Courage Under Fire, to win the Gr.1 Auckland Cup (3200m).
The top-class mare went on to win the Gr.2 NZ Premier Mares Championship (1950m), Gr.2 Franklin Cup (3200m), and Listed Queen of Hearts (2200m).
Her half-brother Where Eagles Dare also showed immense promise in his three-year-old term, winning five races, before taking out the Gr.2 Kumeu Stakes (2700m) in the hands of Lyn Neal as a four-year-old.
He went on to feature prominently in the 2003 Inter Dominions at Addington, winning Heat 5 before finishing fifth in the Grand Final to the Kim Prentice-trained Baltic Eagle.
While Alterior Motif is far from those lofty heights, Neal is excited about his prospects and is hopeful the promising pacer can reach a similar level.
“He has been putting in quite a few runs together like that (Thursday’s win) at the workouts and he qualified by himself. He has a lot of potential there for the future,” Neal said.
It was Neal’s third driving win from just six starts this season, placing in two others, and he said back issues have forced the talented driver to be selective when he sits in the cart on race night.
“I only drive one or two now, for a couple of reasons,” he said. “I have got a disc problem with my back and I couldn’t go out there every race and drive.
“I had an operation and it has settled down now, but after a race it aches a bit.”
While he enjoyed sitting behind Alterior Motif on Thursday, Neal is looking forward to the imminent return of nine-win trotter Credit Master.
“I will drive Credit Master for the rest of the season. He will go to the workouts on Saturday and may go to Auckland next week,” he said.
Neal’s night at Cambridge was further enhanced by the brave performance of Ideal Agent to finish runner-up in his 2200m race.
The son of American Ideal had a tough run, sitting parked for the majority of the race, and Neal said he stuck on gamely to finish runner-up behind Pembrook Charlie, who was given a beautiful run in the trail by trainer-driver Kyle Marshall.
“He had another hard run and from the draw, six, he had nowhere to get in,” Neal said.
“It was a good run from the horse and Todd (Mitchell, driver) said there weren’t a lot of options when he went forward.
“Then he got attacked down the back and got left three wide. All-in-all it was still a very good run.”