All Black Trialist and 10-time Group One winning horseman, Neil Brady, passed away in Dubbo last Friday (January 12) at 11.30am. He was 79.
The former Pakiri Beach (Northland) horseman, who has been living in Australia since 2005, trained and drove multiple Group winning champions, Elect To Live, and Franco Ice, among others. He also played 50 games for Auckland (1968-74) via his beloved Ponsonby Club; was North Island representative; and an All Black Trialist in 1971 aged 27.
The larger than life, ‘handlebars-down-straight-to-the-front’ horseman of the 1990s and early 2000s was renowned for his black, white spotted, and orange sleeved coloured silks – in both racing codes.
But his wife of 18 years, Francesca, said there was more to her husband than his above average abilities on the racetrack and on the sports field.
“Many might have seen Neil as a hard competitive man, but he mellowed and there was no-one gentler than Neil. He had a beautiful soft side, read hundreds of books (mostly crime novels) and enjoyed watching gymnastics and even ballet, fully appreciative of the fitness and dedication they required. And even shed a tear watching a sad movie – and almost always when a battler beat the odds. We’re both spiritual and it was heartening to know that Neil was at peace when he died.
“God played a big part in his life. He loved God and always thanked Jesus for his blessings. He felt that God was with him on the track and was grateful that he got to drive good horses like Horse-of-the-Year, Elect To Live. Their 2002 New Zealand Oaks triumph and the Australian Derby win at Launceston were two of Neil’s best wins (see video below). He loved that horse,” Mrs Brady said.
“But above all that, Neil had an incredible sense of fairness. He knew what it was like to be a battler, and never took anything for granted,” Wellington (NSW)-based Brady added.
She said her husband knew around Christmas time that gastrointestinal cancer was going to get the better of him.
“He knew for three weeks that his time was near, and even though he married a ‘true blue Aussie’, Neil was a very proud New Zealander. Neil will be cremated and some of his ashes will return to Pakiri Beach and perhaps his place which was Alexandra Park.
“Sadly, there won’t be a funeral, but there will be a wake, with Neil returning home in the near future. He was a fiercely proud Kiwi, and even though he hadn’t been involved in racing for several years, he did breed a winner, which you wrote about when you spoke to Neil this time last year.
“I will be communicating with family, but for now it’s time to grieve and let it all sink in,” said Mrs Brady, who 11 months ago was termed “my intelligent Australian wife” by her husband. Mrs Brady is in her seventh year of studying animal philosophy, specializing in horses.
Mrs Brady said Jamie MacKinnon, the President of the Auckland Trotting Club, had been in touch.
“Jamie offered to help organize a wake for Neil at Alexandra Park when we are ready, which I envision will be within a few weeks. It will be for family and industry patrons who’d like to pause for a moment in the midst of their busy lives and remember a great man,” she added.
Brady’s only sister, Lorraine Brady, said the family was devastated with the news of her older brother.
“Neil was always so lovely to me. Neil was my protector. I was the only girl in a family of four and Neil was the oldest. We also have two younger brothers Colin and the late Kevin. Neil was a righteous straight-laced man, who never drank or smoked. He never had any children, I loved Neil because he was always straight up and spoke his mind,” Auckland-based Ms Brady said.
“He was like Dad – very old school,” she added.
Ms Brady (Lorraine) said Neil was the first child to Hugh and Thelma. He was born at Grey Lynn (Auckland) on October 31, 1944. He attended Mount Albert Grammar School where he excelled at both rugby union and club rugby league.
She said her brother then farmed cows when he left school, and even though his family weren’t directly involved in racing, the family used to go to Ellerslie when he was a child. Then in his teens Brady started attending Alexandra Park, the track which would later provide some of Brady’s greatest memories.
“Neil liked a bet and he also liked to talk to the horseman at the track. He was a pretty good footballer at the time, and I remember in his early 20s (late 1960s) he had a track made at Massey and started training standardbreds. From there he got hooked and his career took off.
“He then trained at Dargaville before relocating to Pakiri Beach in is late 30s or early 40s. The family was so proud of him. We thought he was a pretty good footy player, but he was also one of the best horsemen New Zealand had when he was at his peak. He had some lovely horses – but we were lucky to have him as long as we did,” Ms Brady (Lorraine) said.
By that she meant he had survived some serious race crashes over the years, and when he was 11 he broke his neck in a game of “bullrush” at school.
“It was so sad because he was in a plaster from the waist up and wore a neck-brace for months, including over Christmas. That was a horrifying time for us all, especially Mum and Dad, but Neil has always been a tough person. He bounces back quick. Nothing seemed to stop him. He was tougher than Teak,” Ms Brady (Lorraine) said.
In February last year Brady said the reason he came to Australia was because he had become disillusioned with harness racing in New Zealand and left his homeland in 2005. A year earlier he had met his wife Francesca, and by 2006 they had married.
However, Brady and his wife bred their last New Zealand winner at Cambridge Raceway on December 23 when 4-year-old Sir Lincoln – Cosi Bella (Changeover) gelding, Caulfield notched up his fifth career win in 36 starts.
Brady (Neil) said last February that Cosi Bella had been housed at Te Awamutu with Heidi Richardson since the couple left New Zealand after spending just over two years here from 2014-2017. His wife worked in New Zealand (and Australia) at high-end thoroughbred studs and stables.
“Cosi Bella is my only connection to harness racing now. I haven’t been involved for several years. I’ve always loved breeding and have bred standardbreds since the 1970s. I have learnt a lot of the intricacies of animal husbandry more recently from Francesca. I actually bred the 1998 Live Or Die – Lopez Elect (Lopez Hanover) mare, Elect To Live (1:55.5), even though it wasn’t in his name. There was a glitch in the paperwork, but she was one of the best horses I sat behind.
“I trained, drove, and co-owned her. She was an amazing pacer, who had several gears. She was right up there right up there with Franco Ice (1:55), who won 20 races ($616,961),” Brady said back then.
“She won a couple of Oaks races and was Horse-of-the-Year a couple of times. Right up there with Franco Ice. Those horses gave me some of my greatest moments in the sport. Even though I don’t have much to do with racing now, I watch the races closely from both countries,” he added.
“Elect To Live (1:55.5) won 19 of her 35 starts and banked more than half a million dollars. She’s right up there with the best I’ve had – and she left several foals after I left including the Queensland stallion Gotta Go Cullect,” Brady said.
Mrs Brady said some of her husband’s best horses were:
“The’ perennial Group One runner-up, Franco Ice. Rain Again (“Neil really admired him”), Seafield Raider, Kotare Jaegar, Stylish Sweetheart and Watch Me Trot, who although he wasn’t top notch, he had many wins at Alexandra Park racing without shoes.
“Neil was trainer, driver, and farrier much of the time with his horses. He knew a lot about feet and balancing a horse,” Mrs Brady said.
• He trained 239 winners ($2.2m) from 18,859 starters from 1983 to 2005. He also saluted the judge 153 times from 1,277 drives ($1.4m) , also from 1983-2005.
• He won 10 Group One races on both sides of the Tasman.
• He also had 11 starts when he was in New Zealand for a couple of years from 2014- 2017, while his wife worked at this country’s elite galloping stables and studs.
• In Australia, Brady trained 51 winners ($552,942), and drove 48 winners, from 2000 to 2013 with his best result being Zen Over Again’s Listed Classic win in the 2008 Aussco Graduate Final, and Watch The Ace’s second in the Group One 2008 NSW Sires Stakes Final.
• Brady played 50 rugby union games for Auckland at fullback and second-five-eight from 1967 to 1975 and one game for the North Island in the 1971 All Black Trial.
• He played club rugby for Teachers College in Ponsonby and also with Waitemata where his team won the coveted Gallagher Shield. Before that he was a tough league player footing it with the best of his age-group.
• For Auckland he played alongside All Blacks, Bryan (BG) Williams, Andy Haden, Peter Whiting, Ron Rangi, Malcolm Dick, Keith Nelson, and Grahame Thorne.
Footnote: Perhaps former Hutt Park Racing Secretary, Stephen Richardson, summed up just how tough Neil Brady actually was:
“He was a hard man. He got fully barreled in the face when he was shoeing a horse at Hutt Park one night a few decades ago. His face was blown up and he could hardly open his eyes. I said what the ‘@#$&’ happened to you? And he replied: ‘My missus hit me with a frying pan’. Most would have ended up in hospital or dead, but he just carried on. RIP.”