Farewell Colin Neil — “Weights correct”

Colin Neil catching up with Linda Ballantyne before she rode in the first leg of the Classic Jockeys Series at Te Rapa in December 2014.

Colin Neil catching up with Linda Ballantyne before she rode in the first leg of the Cambridge Stud Classic Jockeys Series at Te Rapa in December 2014.

Today marks the final farewell to Colin Neil, one of New Zealand racing’s longest-serving officials.

Friends, many from the racing industry, and family will pay their final tributes to Colin in Hamilton today at his funeral at St Joseph’s Catholic Church.

After a lengthy illness, Colin passed away in the Atawhai Mercy Assisi Home, Matangi last Friday at the age of 86.

Even in his final days he reminisced with me over his many happy days in racing, an industry in which he was involved for 54 years, including a staggering 41 years as the Clerk Of The Scales for most Waikato and Bay Of Plenty meetings.

He was recognised for 50 years’ service to the New Zealand horse racing industry with the Queen’s Service Medal in the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours’ list.

That was a proud moment for Colin and so, too was the occasion when trainer John Wheeler became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to racing. Colin had been instrumental in the pushing for Wheeler’s recognition and made the trip to Wellington for the big occasion.

Though Colin retired in July 2010, he still kept up a strong interest in racing and proudly became a sponsor at Te Rapa, including a novelty event at the Cambridge Jockey Club’s meeting in December 2014.

Colin and his wife, Thelma, presented a trophy to Chad Ormsby as the winner of the inaugural Cambridge Stud Classic Jockeys Series for ex-jockeys.

“I loved my time being involved in the industry and I just want to give something back,” said Colin that day. “I still love going to the races when I can and meeting the riders, both old and new, as well as all the trainers and owners I got to know so well over the years.”

Colin and Thelma also presented a trophy to the winning trainer of the Gr. 3 $100,000 Skycity Hamilton Waikato Cup for a couple of years. After all Te Rapa was where it all began in racing for him.

He was employed as the Te Rapa birdcage steward and on-course announcer then he started keeping the official records for the Waikato Racing Club in 1962 and he continued that role with other clubs. He also did the on-course announcements for the Paeroa and Thames clubs.

Though Reg Mullins was the official Clerk Of The Scales at Te Rapa for most of Colin’s time in racing, Colin has many fond memories of his duties at the scales for other clubs in the Waikato area.

One day Colin always remembered is May 10, 1998 at the Paeroa meeting when trainer Trevor McKee told him to take a good look at a filly having her first start. That filly was Sunline and she raced away to an easy debut win and went on to be a champion with more than $14 million in prizemoney and 32 wins from 48 starts.

He was proud to note he was the first to weigh a rider out for Sunline.

Though his health was failing in his last week, he still fondly recalled to me some of his special occasions in racing and named Kevin Gray, Ken Kelso and the late Dick Stevenson as three of his favourite trainers, along, of course, with Wheeler.

He was also quick to recall the day he got engaged to Thelma – St Patrick’s Day March 17 1953.

It was as though he held on to life to mark that special occasion as he took his last breath 64 years later to the exact day.

On behalf of the Cambridge Jockey Club and all the racing fraternity, farewell Colin. “Weights correct” so rest in peace.