Star jockey Tommy Berry is relieved he had the opportunity to meet up one last time with his ailing friend and mentor, Neville Layt.
“When learned Neville wasn’t well I said to my wife, Sharnee, I have to go down to see him,’’ Berry said.
“Before (trainer) Rick Worthington passed away, I spoke to him about a month earlier and said I would catch up and see him for lunch.
“I never got the chance to do that with Rick before he passed and I have regretted it ever since.
“I wasn’t going to let that same mistake happen with Neville and we had such a great time that afternoon we caught up about five weeks ago.
“Just to listen to Neville talk about his family and his horses was great. He was just so proud of his family and what they have achieved.
“He was really looking forward to going to his two sons’ weddings including (jockey) Adrian’s later this year so it will be a sad time for them that he won’t be there.’’
Layt, the popular Queanbeyan trainer best known for preparing the brilliant Karuta Queen to win the 2011 Magic Millions 2YO Classic, passed away earlier this week. He was 76.
Berry acknowledged the important role Layt had in forging the jockey’s outstanding riding career and is determined to honour the trainer’s memory when he rides Redicon in the Vale Neville Layt TAB Highway (1200m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Redicon was prepared by Layt and Racing NSW has kindly given permission for the horse to race under the late trainer’s name.
“Neville was a hardworking trainer and a real character who was extremely popular and highly respected throughout our industry,” Racing NSW Peter V’landys said this week.
“Neville knew his horses intimately and when they could win. He was every bit the horseman – Neville took out the inaugural Highway race at Royal Randwick in October 2015 with Grand Proposal.
“We would like to pass on our sincere condolences to Neville’s wife Barbie, his jockey son Adrian as well as his greater family and friends.’’
When Berry met up with Layt last month, the trainer told him of his plans to set Redicon for the Highway on the final day of the Sydney autumn carnival.
“Neville said he was going to run Redicon in this Highway and I had to ride the horse,’’ Berry said.
“I remember him saying ‘it will probably be the last time you ride for me’.
“If I can win on Redicon, it would be very special and quite emotional – we just need to get a run now.’’
Redicon was made second emergency for the Neville Layt TAB Highway but only needs one more scratching to gain a start after the withdrawal of Underground Music.
Berry was a relatively unknown apprentice when Layt entrusted the teenager with the ride on flying filly Karuta Queen for her race debut at Rosehill in 2010.
Karuta Queen won easily then reeled off three consecutive wins to be favourite for the 2011 Magic Millions 2YO Classic.
This was the best big-race chance of Layt’s training career and he was inundated with requests from senior jockeys to ride his filly in the Magic Millions.
But Layt stuck with the youthful Berry and the jockey has never forgotten the trainer’s loyalty.
“I had good success on Karuta Queen early but there were a lot of jockeys trying to get the ride in the Magic Millions on the filly,’’ Berry recalled.
“But Neville, true to his word, kept me on Karuta Queen and we won the Magic Millions.
“I then got the job as stable rider for Gai Waterhouse after that win. Gai said we liked the way I rated Karuta Queen in the Magic Millions as it’s such a high pressure race and I was still very young and doing my apprenticeship.
“My career flourished from there so Karuta Queen and Neville are a really big part of what I have been able to do during my career.’’
Berry said over the years since Karuta Queen “Neville became a close friend rather than just a person I ride for.’’
“I enjoyed it when he called me every so often to remind me he was watching every ride of mine to see how I was doing,’’ Berry said.
“I will miss him but I’m glad I got the chance to say goodbye.’’
■ Redicon will be the last horse to race under Layt’s name. The trainer will also be represented at the Canberra meeting on Friday when Never Astern contests the Vale Neville Layt Handicap (1300m).
Layt’s funeral is scheduled for the Norwood Park Crematorium at Mitchell in the ACT next Friday, April 30, from 1.30pm.
Berry on Group 1 mission
Tommy Berry can move closer to achieving his goal of finishing the season as the nation’s leading Group 1 jockey by riding the big-race double on the Team Hawkes-trained Masked Crusader and Hilal at Royal Randwick.
Exciting sprinter Masked Crusader is the $2.80 TAB Fixed Odds favourite to win the Group 1 $600,000 Schweppes All Aged Stakes (1400m).
Hilal, the emerging two-year-old, is also at the top of betting at $3.40 for the Group 1 $500,000 Moet & Chandon Champagne Stakes (1600m).
Berry is locked in a three-way tie alongside James McDonald and Willie Pike with five majors each for the coveted honour of leading Group 1 jockey this season. Glen Boss and Luke Currie are next with four big-race wins.
Masked Crusader goes into the All Aged Stakes in outstanding form at Group 1 level at his past three starts. He ran a luckless third to Savatiano in the Canterbury Stakes, scored a spectacular win in the William Reid Stakes, before his fast-finishing second to Nature Strip in the TJ Smith Stakes.
“Masked Crusader has taken a lot of time to mature,’’ Berry said. “He has always shown a lot of ability from day one but he has also had a few little ‘antics’ we have had to iron out over his past few preparations.
“This time in everything has gone smoothly for him, although jumping out of the gates is still a bit of an issue for him.
“But he is racing very genuinely, he is not going as keen early and is showing that devastating turn of foot at the end of his races.’’
Masked Crusader has drawn out in barrier 12 and Berry is open-minded about how he will ride the gelding in the All Aged Stakes.
“Obviously he has drawn wide again and a lot will depend on how he jumps,’’ Berry said.
“If he jumps well we could press forward but if he misses the kick that makes up our mind for us.
“I believe he has the best turn of foot in the race and if we can get to use that (tomorrow) they will know he is there.’’
Berry is chasing his second win in the All Aged Stakes after scoring on Pierata two years ago before finishing the closest of seconds to Tofane in the same race last year.
“Masked Crusader is very much like Pierata as I feel 1400m is probably his best trip,’’ Berry said.
“He is always very strong at the end of 1200m and he has a good record over that distance but I think 1400m gives him that time to relax and travel in a race.
“This gives him the opportunity to show that brilliant turn of foot at the end of 1400m.’’
Hilal’s chances of winning the Champagne have soared after the colt drew well in barrier four.
Berry said Hilal has been getting back in his races – including his last start second to Anamoe in the Inglis Sires – because of wide draws.
“The key to Hilal is drawing a gate,’’ Berry said.
“He hasn’t drawn a barrier his whole career and that has forced us to ride him quiet.
“But from barrier four we can be a lot closer without asking too much of him early.
“Providing he switches off because he can get a bit keen then he will be very hard to beat.’’
Berry, who has ridden a career-best 81 city winners already this season to be second in the Sydney premiership behind James McDonald (94 wins), has a full book at the nine-race Randwick program including talented filly Kiku in the Group 3 $160,000 JHB Carr Stakes (1400m).
Kiku defeated the “boys” in the Carbine Club Stakes and is back against her own age and sex tomorrow.
“I think Kiku put the writing on the wall last start winning the way she did after sitting wide and covering ground,’’ Berry said.
“She has a lot kinder barrier and we can ride her forward, we have that option but we just see how the race pans out.
“Chris Waller is continuing her campaign so that tells me she has done very well between runs. I’m excited to be riding her again.’’
Berry can continue his winning momentum having ridden a brace of wins on both day of The Championships at Randwick – Art Cadeau (Country Championships Final) and Kiku (Group 3 Carbine Club Stakes) on April 10 then Nettoyer (Group 1 Queen of the Turf Stakes) and Jamaea (Group 2 Percy Sykes Stakes) last Saturday.
But Berry will miss the Hawkesbury stand-alone meeting on May 1 after incurring a careless riding suspension at Canterbury during the week. The jockey’s penalty commences on April 26 and ends on May 2.