Neita gets the winning Balle rolling
By Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk
Growing up around horses the ilk of Martina H, Galleons Sunset and Miami H, it’s no wonder Neita Balle has chosen to make a career of harness racing.
The daughter of respected horseman Derek Balle, Neita has always had a passion for the sport, but admitted she didn’t get serious about her future in the industry until four years ago.
“In my last few years at school I didn’t do so well,” Balle said. “I was really into showjumping and the equestrian side of things, and I was going alright at that, but I knew I wasn’t going to make a top equestrian rider. I thought Dad is right here on my doorstep, so I decided to leave school and start working for him.”
Balle took out her junior driver’s license at the start of the season, and while it hasn’t been smooth sailing, she was rewarded for her perseverance when picking up her first win behind the Ross Paynter-trained Lilliburlero in the Book At The Alex for NZ Trotting Cup Day Mobile Pace (2200m) at Alexandra Park on Thursday night.
“I was very stoked to get the win tonight, it has been a long-time coming,” Balle said.
“I love driving, but it got to a point where I was running down the track quite a bit and I was thinking of hanging up my boots, but Dad told me to keep going.”
Balle was confident with Lilliburlero’s chances heading into the race, and drove the Auckland Reactor mare accordingly, launching her off the gate to take an early lead before handing up to Manny.
Lilliburlero enjoyed an economical trip in the trail and utilised the passing lane to sneak up the inside of Manny to win by two lengths.
“I was quite confident with Lilliburlero before the race. It was quite an even field and she had a good draw (5), which she hasn’t been getting for a while,” Balle said.
“I thought if she got a nice, cosy trip she would be hard to beat.”
That confidence waned at the top of the straight, but Balle needn’t have worried, with her charge showing a good turn of foot to get the win.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to draw back Crystal (Hackett, driver of Manny) at the top of the straight, but she kept kicking and got the win. She went well,” Balle said.
While her family has been a big support, ironically they weren’t trackside to experience Balle’s first winning moment in the cart.
“I came up with my boyfriend, Zev Meredith, and Mum and Dad were at home on the couch. They said ‘you only have the one drive, you can go up by yourself’,” she said.
Balle was still able to enjoy the moment with Meredith shortly after the race.
“He gave a fist pump after the line, he was stoked for me,” she said.
While pleased with Thursday’s win, Balle said she can’t wait to salute the judge behind her own horse, Cotton Socks.
“She is my little darling, I love her to bits,” Balle said.
“I bought her three years ago from down south and I have won two races with her. Hopefully I can win a race with her as a driver.”
Meanwhile, trainers Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan had a memorable night at Alexandra Park, winning four races on the 11-race card courtesy of Major Perry, Advance Party, Montana D J, and Merlin.