Australian Thoroughbred

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29/4/2020  Racing mourns loss of pedigree expert Diane Neylon

The racing industry lost an unsung hero last week, with the sad passing of pedigree expert, Diane Neylon.
A true treasure to all that study and respect the influence pedigrees have on the sport of kings. She will be warmly remembered for recommending some of the finest matings, advising on many successful purchases and offering proven advice on breeding theories throughout her life.

Along with her dear friend Ronda Matthews, her son Mark, daughter Siobhan, and two her grandsons Liam, 8 and Edward, 6 were in attendance at the funeral on Friday.

“Having battled breast cancer successfully, unfortunately, it was brain cancer that claimed her in the end. Without the restrictions Cov19 caused, there is no doubt the room would have been full with all her friends and associates there in person,” Matthews said.

“She was so filled with euphoria at her last outing from hospital, taking her son and her grandsons to Star Wars at the movies. Mark remembers his mum took him to see the first Star Wars – a forty-year transition. It was a lovely final memory to give them.”

“Her close friends and clients are proud to be part of Club Neylon – and she will be dearly missed by them all,” Matthews said.

Born on 24th September 1947, Diane Neylon was based in Gin Gin, Queensland, a town inland from Bundaberg.

A lover of horses and racing through people she came to know over her life, she stood the stallion Star Khamsin (Luskin Image) and bred a small but select group of broodmares on her 25-acre property. 

However, Diane’s real passion and talent were unlocking the secrets in thoroughbred pedigrees.

Diane was a disciple of the famous published New Zealand pedigree expert, the late Harold Hampton, who advised the mating of Bonecrusher. He knew the secret of gender bias and passed it on to Diane. There were some families that she would not buy females from and others only colts. How she worked it out was a secret that she never shared.

She also worked closely with Clive Harper, known as Harold Hampton’s “interpreter”. Harper was able to analyse a pedigree to six generations and prove conclusively that Group winning pedigrees contain more intricate line-breeding, including sex balance and a higher number of close relatives.

Another incredible area of interest to Diane was how to identify the ‘will to win’ in a pedigree.

“By studying critical gene pool mass, over 20 generations of siblings, and the large heart gene, especially on the female side, Diane could get a strong indication of this occurrence.” Matthews said.

“It’s all in the brain, the mind, and that’s where the genes come in. When you get a critical mass of families and common ancestors, they all come together and say there you are! I haven’t seen you for a few generations. Let’s have some fun and beat the crap out of the opposition!” Matthews remembers.

“Diane could also see the important mirror image in Winx’s pedigree many, many generations back, that is crucial to her incredible success, and touted Danehill’s success in Australia through his ancestors Nearctic (CAN), Hyperion (GB) and Gainsborough (GB).”

Impressively, Diane advised the successful matings of or advised the purchase of the following G1 winners, Private Steer, Racing To Win, Seasons Bloom, Choisir, Pierro, Mongolian Khan, Dark Ksar, Ike’s Dream and All Silent.

Private Steer

One of her notable connections, include an Armenian fellow by the name of Arvo Damirdjian, who was the primary owner of one of her most successful yearling selections, the triple G1 winning mare Private Steer (Danehill Dancer).

Private Steer was bred by Randlab founder, Angelis Vasili, out of his Semipalatinsk mare Lisheenowen. Diane intensely recommended the breeding to Victoria’s Collingrove Stud stallion Danehill Dancer.

Producing a filly, Vasili was disappointed as he wanted a colt, and decided to sell the filly much to the protest of Diane at the Inglis Classic sale.

“She vehemently told him not to sell her, and although she wasn’t much to look, Diane knew she was going to be a champion,” Matthews said.

She advised Arvo to have a look at this filly and he was not impressed. “It’s off set, its back at the knee on the near side, and its puny – and you want me to buy this thing?”

“Diane was convinced and ordered him to buy it despite the obvious conformational issues.”

The filly was named Private Steer, after one of the owners that came into the horse that had a tenacious, tough war-serving great-auntie, by the name of Private Steer.

After a few starts with her first trainer, Diane got into the ear of Arvo and suggested that they find a better trainer for the talented mare, and suggested John O’Shea, who at the time had a lot to prove.

Although a nightmare to keep sound, requiring a specialist farrier and chiropractor, the will to win was there. When she won the Doncaster, Diane was a guest of Arvo’s at the celebration dinner. Diane commented that there were only two sober people at the table – herself and Glen Boss.

“Private Steer had had two bad checks in running and was last on the turn, and Diane recalls Boss saying that he was unsure if she could win from there. “When he asked her to go, it was like she had afterburners. She almost left me behind sitting on the ground. I could not believe the will she had to win! Boss said,” O’Shea had taught this horse to settle and then wait to fire. A brilliant training effort.”

Racing To Win

At the Inglis Easter sales in 2004 she advised John O’Shea to buy Racing To Win through the Private Steer connection.

Encosta de Lago was the hot stallion at the time, and O’Shea asked her to look at all the Encosta’s in the sale. It was days of work, and in the end, Diane believed that there was only one worth considering.

John followed her advice, and snapped up the colt out of Surrealist, from Boscobel Stud for only $40,000. 

Diane was then asked to advise on a pedigree for the late Trevor Stuckey only a short time later, and mentioned the colt O’Shea had bought at Easter. She advised him to buy a share, as she believed he would be a superstar. Stuckey took that advice and then some. He bought the whole horse!

Diane had the upmost respect for O’Shea and admired him how he took note of the smallest details. When Private Steer raced, he would bed her on straw even at the races to keep her comfortable and sound. A similar tactic used by the master, Bart Cummings, who would bed them on straw to encourage them to lie down the night before a race.

I Am Invincible

Possibly Diane’s most significant and successful pedigree moment was that she advised the mating of the breed shaping sire, I Am Invincible.

I Am Invincible’s dam, the Canny Lad mare, Cannarelle was bred by Ray Gall and bought by Helen and Mark Kassis as a yearling for $110,000, the top priced filly at the sale. Diane met the couple through the sales, and was asked to recommend a stallion. Diane steadfastly advised Cannarelle to visit Invincible Spirit at Chatswood Stud.

The resulting foal was a stunning colt from day one. Unfortunately, again it was sold as a yearling much to the protests of Diane. Being by a new imported stallion at the time, without Australian results on the board, his magnificent type still earned him enough admirers to make $160,000. A lot at that time, and interestingly it was bought by his dam’s breeder, Ray Gall.

I Am Invincible was over-galloped by his first trainer, so when he was outed due to suspension, Ray Gall transferred the horse to Hawkes Racing. Seeing the horse was already down on his bumpers and pretty battered, Hawkes sent him down to Peter Morgan’s water walker. This helped him recover, develop muscle and keep him sound. Eventually the back and forth was too much, and Hawkes advised he be transferred to Morgan permanently. Then the results started to flow.

“Later when I Am Invincible was standing at Yarraman, I fondly remember Diane being up front with Harry Mitchell, telling him that she bred this horse and she knew what mares he should cover. Interestingly, I don’t even think Harry knew who she was, but if Diane had something to say she could be quite dogmatic. If she believed it, you better sit down, shut up and listen,” Mathews laughed.

Ceri & Steve Jostlear – Ampulla Lodge

“Steve and I met Diane over 20 years ago though pedigrees when she advised a client of hers to come to our stallion, Brackenbury. After many well matched matings and mares later, a strong friendship developed. She was a guest at our wedding in 2007, she taught us a hell of a lot about pedigrees and we enjoyed her staying with us for months on end,” Ceri recalls.

“She certainly had the touch and was able to pick the mares that produced the only two stakes winners for our imported US stallion, Super Jet.”

“The mare Bally Aura produced the duel G2 and G3 winner Skyerush for Ralph Gilbert and Suzie Castle-Roach and Arvo’s mare Wicked Way, produced The Pentagon, who won the 2010 Australian Grand National Hurdle over 4530m by a dominant eight lengths.”

“She was such an integral and valued member of the team at Ampulla Lodge, from mare selection to suit our stallions, to advice and selection of weanlings today. We were a great team. She was part of the Ampulla brain trust. We would look at the type and she would do the pedigrees, and together the successes speak for themselves.

She was a vital link to the successful racehorses we pin-hooked, including G1 winner Seasons Bloom (A$4.8M) out of the catalogue. By the Queensland first season sire, Captain Sonador, out of the Not A Single Doubt mare Pyramisa’s Lass, Diane had an uncanny knack of finding the jewel in the crown in a sale. This colt’s pedigree jumped out at her, and his incredible G1 success in Hong Kong followed.

Other selections include the G2 winner So Swift, G3 winner Excites Zelady (A$600k), Solar Hei Hei (A$1.5M), Pretty Bauhinia (A$1.03M) and Above (A$700k).

“Her knowledge and expertise will be greatly missed, personally and professionally and the next weanling sales will not be the same without her,” Ceri said.

Richard Anderson – Quilly Park

Quilly Park’s Richard Anderson and hit it off with Diane from the first time they met, as he was also intensely interested in pedigrees. Richard stands the stallion De Gaulle with co-owner John Pratt.

“Richard and Diane were like kindred spirits when it came to pedigrees”, Mathews said.

“Together, they always wanted to find the answer to the intriguing question that we all grapple with – “Why was there a will to win in some horses and not others? Why do some horses give their all to win despite adversary, and others that cost a million to buy with perfect x-rays, can’t run out of sight on a dark night?”

“Diane wanted to leave a legacy behind, and through Richard her knowledge and research will continue,” Matthews said.

“She was very disciplined with the depth that she looked into a breeding chart. She would not just look at the sale page, she would go 7 – 15 generations back. Then she could show you the patterns that emerged. Her pedigree comprehension was entrenched from Harold Hampton. She knew how to find the gems in a pedigree,” Anderson said.

“She is still alive in my mind. I can still hear her telling me off, and passing on her wonderful knowledge. I hope one day I can credit her with helping me to breed the next champion sire,” Richard said.

Peter Ebdon

Designer Pedigree’s Peter Ebdon, a British pedigree expert has studied the pedigrees of the most successful horses around the world over the last 25 years.  He has identified successful patterns and genetic reinforcements, that occur consistently, in the very best racehorses.

He mentions how fortunate he was to be able to study the deliberately designed pedigrees of other professional pedigree consultants and mentions the help and friendship he valued from Diane Neylon.

“It was Diane who introduced me to the work of the pedigree genius, Harold Hampton. To quote from one of the most successful and intelligent breeders of all time, H.H Aga Khan:

‘Breeding thoroughbreds is like playing chess with nature’.”

RIP Diane Neylon