The rise and rise of Annabel Neasham

Bren O'Brien - August 28, 2023

A look at the key numbers behind the rise of trainer Annabel Neasham just three years into her training career.

Last Friday marked the third anniversary of Annabel Neasham’s first-ever runner as a trainer. A day later, at Rosehill, she celebrated her 38th stakes success when impressive and as-yet-unbeaten colt Libertad (Russian Revolution) won the San Domenico Stakes (Gr 3, 1100m).

It was a 296th win overall for the star trainer, who since she started out under her own name in August 2020, has gone on a rise – statistically at least – like few others in the history of Australian racing.

The comparison between Neasham and Hall of Fame trainer Gai Waterhouse has been inescapable during the former’s rise to prominence.

Waterhouse blazed a trail for female trainers when she took out her training licence in 1992, having assumed the Tulloch Lodge responsibilities from her legendary father, TJ Smith. By the end of her third season in charge, Waterhouse had won eight Group 1 races and in that third season, she finished runner-up in the Sydney metro trainers’ premiership, with 75 winners.

While much has changed in the times since, if you draw a line through the same point of their careers, which for Neasham is at the end of last season, she has the same number of Group 1 wins as Waterhouse. While Gai had more Sydney metro winners than Neasham in that third season – 75 to 38, Neasham had another 30 metropolitan winners nationally last year, taking her total to a very comparable 68.

What Neasham has been able to achieve which was not possible when Waterhouse was emerging in the 1990s, is scale inside those early years. Neasham had 164 runners in her first season, but through a multi-stable and state strategy grew that to 545 in season two and 1051 in 2022-23.

Annabel Neasham’s record season-by season*

Season Winners Runners SWs G1ws S/R 2023/24 11 82 1 0 13.4% 2022/23 172 1051 20 3 16.4% 2021/22 83 545 11 3 15.2% 2020/21 30 164 6 2 18.3% Overall 296 1842 38 8 16.1% *As of August 26

In her third season since getting a licence, she was the fifth busiest stable in the land last year, behind only Chris Waller; her former bosses Ciaron Maher and David Eustace; Kris Lees, and Ben and JD Hayes. She had 99 more runners than Godolphin’s James Cummings, and 272 more than Waterhouse and her training partner Adrian Bott.

Neasham finished sixth on the national trainers’ premiership with 172 wins, the highest position ever for any female trainer apart from Waterhouse. That total was more than double the previous season, where she had 83 wins, and a huge jump on her first campaign, which yielded 30 wins.

Given that Neasham didn’t inherit horses from a previous stable when she first set up her Warwick Farm base in the maelstrom of the pandemic in 2020, it’s an extraordinary path of growth. Her role as head of Maher’s Sydney operation for two years clearly set her up well and she did enjoy considerable support from major investors, such as Aquis, but the trajectory has been driven by her ambition for scale.

Neasham’s success at this point of her career, compared to all other current trainers except perhaps for Waterhouse, has been extraordinary.

By comparison, three seasons into setting up his Australian base, Chris Waller had 99 wins and six stakes wins. In his third season, he had 53 wins from 306 runners.

At the end of Ciaron Maher’s third season, he was still primarily a jumps trainer, with 51 wins to his name, just one of them at stakes level.

Tony Gollan, third on the Australian premiership table last year, had 75 wins to his name three seasons into his career, and had yet to train a stakes winner.

Even James Cummings, who spent his first two seasons training alongside his famous grandfather Bart, had fewer wins in his first three seasons (153) than Neasham did last season alone. Among that list for Cummings was 19 stakes wins, half of what Neasham has achieved to date.

Kris Lees, fifth on the trainers’ table last year, just above Neasham, inherited his father Max’s Newcastle stables in the early 2000s and in his first three seasons in charge had 233 wins, 52 fewer than Neasham had at the same stage of her training career.

Peter Moody is another 21st century trainer worth looking at. In his third full season, Moody’s career took off with 94 wins, eight at stakes level. Among that collection was his first Group 1 winner, Amalfi (Carnegie) in the 2001 Victoria Derby (Gr 1, 2500m).

Key statistics for selected trainers in their first three seasons

Trainer Winners SWs G1ws Annabel Neasham 285 37 8 Kris Lees 233 10 4 James Cummings 153 19 3 Chris Waller 99 6 1 Tony Gollan 75 0 0 Ciaron Maher 51 1 1 One of the keys for Neasham has been getting an early stable star with Zaaki (Leroidesanimaux). The import has claimed four Group 1s, plus an All-Star Mile (1600m) since arriving in Australia and making his local debut for Neasham in April 2021, just 10 months into her training career.

Dual Group 1 winner Mo’unga (Savabeel) was Neasham’s first elite winner earlier in that autumn, while further Group 1 success has followed from Top Ranked (Dark Angel) and Sunshine In Paris (Invader).

In comparison, Waller’s eighth Group 1 success came at the end of his sixth season, Maher’s came in his 11th season, Moody in his eighth and James Cummings in his fifth – even with considerable support from Godolphin.

The only trainer in recent times, apart from Neasham and Waterhouse, we could find who achieved eight Group 1 wins in their first three seasons after being licensed was Peter Snowden, who inherited the massive Crown Lodge operation from John Hawkes in 2007.

On her numbers this season, it looks like Neasham intends to keep up the hectic pace which has driven her sudden rise to prominence. As of Saturday, she had 76 Australian runners in the first 26 days of the season, third only behind Waller and Maher/Eustace in terms of volume. She has probably had fewer wins than she may have liked from those runners, with 10, but Libertad’s victory on Saturday points to greater things this spring.

Significantly, the Russian Revolution (Snitzel) colt carried the colours of Trilogy Racing, which, a bit like Neasham, has risen to prominence in the past three years to become one of the major players in Australian bloodstock. Jason and Mel Stenning, in partnership with Sean and Cathy Dingwall have built their minor involvement into a major network of thoroughbred interests, including ownership of Blue Gum Farm in Victoria.

Libertad’s main spring goal after his win on Saturday will be the Golden Rose (Gr 1, 1400m), a victory which would not only mint a future stallion for Trilogy/Blue Gum, but give them every incentive to send further horses to Neasham.

Neasham recently announced she had established a base at Pakenham with up to 60 boxes. Up until this point, just 6.4 per cent of her runners and 3.7 per cent of her winners have been in Victoria, but we can expect those numbers to rise steeply as she continues to ramp up her numbers and become one of the top three biggest stables in the country.

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