The fact that racegoers, trainers, owners, jockeys and horses travel great distances every year only adds to the appeal of the Darwin Cup Carnival.
They head north from every point of Australia.
And it’s rarely smooth sailing as they embark on their trek north.
Former Queensland galloper Neuschwanstein falls into that category.
Arriving in the Top End with a rating of 70, the seven-year-old gelding sealed his spot in the $200,000 Carlton Mid Darwin Cup (2000m) on August 6 after getting the cash in just his second start at Fannie Bay.
That was in the Mantra Handicap (1300m) on May 26 when he overcame handy types Canon Diablo, He’s Our Woody, Crackajack, Harrebs Time, Quantum Dot and Celebrakti.
That saw Neuschwanstein’s rating escalate to 79, which saw his trainer Sherrie Lawlor contemplate having a starter in the Northern Territory’s biggest race for the first time.
Having debuted as a two-year-old at Eagle Farm in June 2013, Neuschwanstein proved highly competitive in a further 46 starts at other venues such as Doomben, Ipswich, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.
Starting out as a sprinter, Neuschwanstein was tested over the longer trips having raced as far as 1800m.
His six wins in Queensland ranged from 1350m-1400m.
Neuschwanstein’s arrival in Darwin and what he had to endure once settling in the Top End certainly tested Lawlor’s patience and resolve.
Lawlor, who only arrived in the Top End from Brisbane 12 months ago, acquired the horse after dealing with an acquaintance in the racing industry.
“I was keen to purchase an older horse and I came across Neuschwanstein after assessing his form,” Lawlor said.
“I had someone looking for me as well and they ended up watching Neuschwanstein race.
“This all took place over a few days and I ended up buying him for $5000.
“I arranged for him to come to Darwin a week after his last race in Brisbane in March.
“It’s roughly a 3000km and takes four days, but he had to stay in Katherine for an extra day after Cyclone Marcus struck Darwin.”
It’s only when Neuschwanstein got to Darwin that Lawlor’s troubles with the gelding began.
She came close to send the horse back to Queensland.
“After the cyclone we had no electricity at the stable for about 10 days, and it was hot and humid,” Lawlor said.
“We had no fans and Neuschwanstein got a case of “The Puffs” where he couldn’t cool down because of the humidity.
“The official term is Anhydrosis.
“It was as if he was dehydrating – some horses just can’t handle the hot weather up here.
“He also lost his hair – at one stage he was almost completely bald.
“It took us a while to get him right and it was a relief when he finally turned the corner.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that before and it gave us a bit of a scare.
“I was thinking about sending him back to Brisbane, but in hindsight I’m glad I kept him.”
Neuschwanstein finally made his Darwin debut on May 12 when he finished second behind Gary Clarke’s classy sprinter Kiss The Condor in the Southern Cross Television 0-76 Handicap (1200m).
Victory at his next start a fortnight later had tongues wagging – and that’s not because pronouncing Neuschwanstein is a difficult task.
Then after a short break, he returned on June 16 to finish third behind Neat Feat, arguably Darwin’s best horse on show during the Cup Carnival, and Alice Springs flyer Le Commandant in the QBE Cup Open Handicap (1200m).
Neuschwanstein was due to run in the UBET ROANT Gold Cup (1300m) on June 30, but was scratched after returning an abnormal temperature two days before the race.
Returning to full fitness, he produced an eye-catching third behind Gary Clarke’s pair Zahspeed and Kifaah in the $60,000 Asian United Food Service Chief Minister’s Cup (1600m) on July 14.
A host of Darwin Cup candidates featured in that race and Neuschwanstein certainly flexed a bit of muscle that day.
Suffice to say the Darwin Cup was never really on the agenda for the horse, but things can change.
“It was pointed out to me that if you have the opportunity to have a runner in the Darwin Cup then you should have a go,” Lawlor said.
“My husband Martin has encouraged me as well, so I’m going to have my first Cup runner.
“It’s all very exciting, but Neuschwanstein produced a big run last start.
“He’ll run in the Metric Mile on Saturday before the Cup and all going to plan he should prove competitive.
“If he produces a similar run compared to the Chief Ministers Cup then he’ll be there somewhere at the finish.”
Leading Darwin jockey Felicia Bergstrand, who has ridden Neuschwanstein in his four starts here in the Top End, will partner the horse in the Metric Mile and Darwin Cup.
“Felicia is happy to ride the horse and she is happy to stick with us,” Lawlor said.
“We have a good relationship with Felicia and we’re happy to stick by her.”
Lawlor, who has been training “off and on” since acquiring her licence some 20 years ago, is the daughter of late trainer David Lawlor.
“I never trained on a fulltime because I had kids, but I have been around horses all my life,” she said.
“I have always liked Darwin, so when Martin got a job in Darwin we decided to make the move.”
Born in Cloncurry, Lawlor has a small stable here in the Top End and that’s just how she likes it.
Apart from Neuschwanstein, Lawlor also has four-year-old mare Rockmeartie and five-year-old Westernport at her disposal.
Sadly, five-year-old gelding Bartender Man has been retired after suffering a recent injury.
Former Grafton-based galloper Flinders Beach has arrived in the Top End and the five-year-old gelding debuts at Fannie Bay on Saturday.
“We purchased Bartender Man at the last year’s Tried Horse Sale during the Darwin Cup Carnival,” Lawlor said.
The winless Bartender Man from Victoria, who had 22 career starts, made 12 appearances for the Lawlor stable where he finished second on six occasions and third on three occasions.
The disappointment of having to retire Bartender Man could be erased should Neuschwanstein become the first locally trained horse to win the Darwin Cup since Lightinthenite saluted for Gary Clarke in 2015.
First of all, Neuschwanstein will have to prove to his rivals that he means business in the $50,000 Sky Racing Metric Mile (1600m) on Saturday – the feature race on Day 5 of the 2018 Darwin Cup Carnival.
Neuschwanstein has 55.5kg in the Metric Mile, but in the Darwin Cup he will carry 55kg.
Darwin Tips – Saturday
Selections by David White
1 MORAL OUTRAGE
3 Sky Muster
7 Wicked Affair
5 Lago Girl
3 EL TORANADO
1 Le Commandant
4 Kiss The Condor
2 Snappy Time
10 Marymount Lass
1 AMERICAN GENIUS
4 Riverina Romance
6 Toorak Road
7 LET’S CELEBRATE
6 Combat Warrior
1 Global Icon
3 Latest Bentley
2 Royal Request
4 Lake Jackson
2 GRAND TETON
1 Quantum Dot
4 Trooper’s Ploy
3 Bel Sir