By Tony Megahey
For Cootamundra hobby trainer and cafe proprietor George Dimitropoulos, equine passions ignited as a schoolboy Greek immigrant when, with his parents, he hauled farm produce in their horse drawn cart to eke out a living down in the Riverina.
Young George went from caring for working horses to be engrossed in a thoroughbred racing heartland.
Humble but canny George might be 61 but he’s enjoying career-defining times. His rising sprinter Neyla’s Girl landed a $30 to $20 coup for his first city winner recently at Warwick Farm.
Previously she was narrowly beaten at Canterbury Park by the Waller’s Cocoexcel. The depth of city form ensures the four-year-old Krupt mare will be amongst the favourites for Saturday’s Rosehill Gardens $60.000 TAB Highway Handicap (1200m).
George has just three in work and travels almost daily in the pre-dawn near 200 kilometres return from “Coota” to Wagga-Wagga for track-work. And then he brews coffee and cooks at the family Paragon cafe in Cootamundra.
“Real long day mate, travel and fuel is a strain at my age; my wife Katrina is an angel, opens our cafe and works until I can get back. Couldn’t manage without her,” George said.
Dimitropolous had the confidence in Neyla’s Girl to bypass a Royal Randwick TAB Highway and take on a tougher mid-week race at “The Farm” where she was impressive.
George might only have a small team but he places them to perfection.
Neyla’s Girl is back to a country class three after clocking 1.09.39 over 1200m at “The Farm”. Her regular rider, vastly experienced Wagga-Wagga based Michael Heagney, rides at 55.5 kgs but has to contend with barrier 14.
George has applied to train at the Cootamundra track to relieve his travel and costs.
“There’s one other trainer operating out of the “Coota” track so I’m hopeful, it’d make a huge difference and I could get more horses.”
In February George’s Leeton record holder Zakynthos Regrets, since sold to Hong Kong interests, was edged in a Rosehill TAB Highway by classy Fickle Folly. Sue Grill’s mare won at Randwick on Saturday and placed previously at Group 3 level.
To lose a sprinter with the talent of Zakynthos Regrets from a small country stable normally would have been disastrous but George said the sale was inevitable. And Neyla’s Girl emerged to ease the pain.
“He had more ability than this mare but his owner had a severe stroke and couldn’t work anymore so the sale was like superannuation,” George said.
“They gave me last say but their security was the priority ahead of racing. Anyway this mare has progressed amazingly. Michael and I were confident she would progress to city grade. She beat a good horse and ran time and it took a smart one of Waller’s to beat her at Canterbury.
“We’re really well placed with 55.5kg in a country class three. We’re aiming to qualify for the Anniversary Highway, next Everest Day at Randwick, so we need a strong Highway performance. Then either Moonee Valley or the Snake Gully Cup at Gundagai; close to home, and big prize-money ($70,000). Both tracks suits as she’s a natural speed mare and she’s just as effective at 1400m.”
Then for George it was back to the daily reality of the travel, the coffees and the hamburgers. And for his cafe regulars, George’s race tips lately have been just as appetising.