Sentimental links to her formative years will work in tandem with new frontiers for Annabel Neasham as she bids for the two richest purses of Australia's autumn thoroughbred racing season.
In less than two years since opening a stable in Sydney, Neasham is recognised as one of the country's brightest young training talents.
She will be trying to confirm a rapid rise through the ranks with stable star Zaaki and accomplished two-year-old Lady Laguna in $5 million races run in Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday.
Zaaki will contest the All-Star Mile at Flemington and Lady Laguna will be a runner in the Golden Slipper at Rosehill.
Together, they represent where Neasham has come from and where she wants to go after finding her way into racing as a university student in England.
In Zaaki, Neasham has forged an impressive connection with her heritage as the UK import has established himself as a banner racehorse in Australia with three elite-level victories in the space of 12 months.
A middle-distance specialist, Zaaki provided Neasham with the most recent of her five Group One wins when successful in the Mackinnon Stakes during last year's Melbourne Cup carnival.
He returns to the scene of that victory as a warm favourite to win the All-Star Mile, inaugurated in 2019 in response to the emergence of a series of new races in Sydney.
Closer to Neasham's home stable, Lady Laguna will take on the fastest two-year-olds in training as one of the outsiders in the Golden Slipper.
Unlike the UK, much of the Australian thoroughbred industry's focus is on juvenile racing and after honing her craft under Gai Waterhouse and Ciaron Maher, Neasham has learnt from the best in that field.
Lady Laguna will be Neasham's second Slipper starter in a race where the Maher-trained Coolangatta is favourite to extend an unbeaten record.
Maher handed Neasham the keys to his Sydney satellite operation before she took out her training licence at the start of the 2020-21 racing season.
"The job I left, they don't get much better than that," Neasham said.
"I was fortunate when working with Ciaron Maher to be involved in a lot of Group One winners and I got to see the process in getting those horses there."
Several Golden Slipper runners are under a fitness cloud and Neasham's representation could be bolstered because she trains two of the four emergencies for the race.
Five Group One contests will be decided at Rosehill and Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant will trying to add a 12th major to her record.
Verry Elleegant will be the day's shortest-priced favourite in the Ranvet Stakes, a weight-for-age race she won last year in soft ground.
A superior racehorse in the wet, Verry Elleegant seems certain to have conditions in her favour for a repeat win because rain is forecast for Sydney.
Australian Associated Press
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