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The Cup visits Kerang without Jye

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Kendall Jennings, The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper

The Cup tours Kerang
The Cup on its way around town, riding high, in style. Photo: Kendall Jennings

In a ride that changed a young man’s career, Jye McNeil won the 2020 Melbourne Cup in his debut in the big race. However, the events he looked forward to with the Kerang Turf Club would go ahead without him on Thursday, October 14 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

I’ve always enjoyed horse racing, inspired by my grandfather to my New Zealand uncle and Dad. Since 2002, I followed Jye McNeil’s cousin in the motocross/supercross world, Jarryd McNeil, and was trackside over multiple wins. My dad’s lucky number is six, ‘Twilight Payment’ ran that number in the 2020 Melbourne Cup, and Dad had placed a bet. I’ve been told about the race; however, I watched the race for the first time this week. I was filled with emotion, knowing the result, and imaging how proud his family was, and disappointed that they could not be at Flemington. I have come in on the tail end of this impressive history-making ride. I had the chance to sit down and chat with Jye, Logan, Darryl and Michelle McNeil earlier this year, in and out of various regional COVID-19 restrictions. I have noticed that all the McNeils share the same passion in their competitive field, and fame does not change them.

The Cup tours Kerang
L–R: Jye’s parents Michelle and Darryl McNeil, a “larger than life” representation of Jye, along with Kerang Turf Club vice-president Greg McNeil and Kerang Turf Club president Colleen Shay. Photo: Kendall Jennings.

In the fastest Melbourne Cup since Media Puzzle in 2002, Twilight Payment ran the cup in 3:17.34. In his inaugural Melbourne Cup ride, Jye McNeil from Myall won the great race in front of no crowd, a first in the cup’s history. The race that stops a nation was viewed by television screens under COVID-19 restrictions with family and friends not allowed trackside when Jye claimed the victory. Winning the big race had to be controlled and balanced with media interviews and three more races to ride for that day, as humble Jye became every media outlet’s hot property.

Jye was 13 when he announced that he wanted to become a jockey. He can vividly recall all the jockeys he completed his apprenticeship with and who else caught the train to Melbourne for their jockey apprenticeship. Jye’s first-ever race was at Swan Hill aboard Ski Lago in November 2011, where he finished ninth in a field of 14. Who would have guessed he would be a Melbourne Cup winner in 2020?

I have noticed the style of Jye, which is impressive; it is like he is floating above the horse. Building a technique takes 10,000 hours for muscle memory to develop and create a natural reflex, which is a lot of time in the saddle, especially with races lasting minutes. 

I feel heartbroken for the McNeil family. The state COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for Jye to accompany the 2021 iconic Melbourne Cup tour. It was another missed opportunity to share the victory with his loyal supporters. Instead, Jye was a cut-out figure, and for once, the 26-year-old was taller than most fans, touring around the landscape where he grew up. 

The Cup tours Kerang
Ex-Kerang local, VRC and Melbourne Cup Tour representative, Bree Laughlin guards the Cup during its ride. Photo: Kendall Jennings

The cup toured Kerang most of the day and then headed for the ‘Wetlander’ near Koondrook in the late afternoon where Darryl and Michelle McNeil, on behalf of Jye, presented a framed print from his winning 2020 Melbourne Cup ride to the Kerang Turf Club. 

With four group one wins, can Jye McNeil make the Melbourne Cup line-up for the second time? Jye has ridden eight winners in the past month and is looking strong at the correct time of year. With four leading jockeys already suspended for the entire 2021, Spring Racing Carnival, race fans may be treated to a local riding in the big race again this year.

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 21 October 2021

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 21 October 2021.

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