Sydney Cleeve was always destined to be heavily involved with greyhounds during her adult life, after being born into the industry.
Her parents Garry Cleeve and Gaylene Turnwald have been hugely successful industry participants for many decades, and the 21-year-old has successfully launched her own breeding and training career, which has now been recognised with Sydney Cleeve being named as the April GRNZ Board Award winner, which celebrates young achievers in the industry.
“I’m very proud winning the award – it’s pretty cool,” saidahe Rangiora-based Cleeve.
“I was pretty much born into greyhound racing. I owe a lot to my parents who have patiently guided me throughout.
“When I was little, people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. Until I was nine, I always wanted to be a princess – obviously that didn’t work out,” she said with a chuckle.
“I really fell in love with handling greyhounds – working behind the scenes with my parents. Now, I have become an owner/trainer myself, which I’m thoroughly enjoying, and I’m extremely grateful to my parents for allowing it to happen.”
Cleeve’s success as a trainer started with the promising greyhound Great Potential.
The son of Fabregas and Know Potential quickly delivered on his potential, with Cleeve presenting him to lead all the way in just his third career race, clocking a tidy 30.11 for his November 29th Addington 520m win last year. Cleeve has since gone on to mentor her charge to a further six Addington 520m wins.
“Great Potential is a weird type of dog, in the sense that he’s very protective of me. He’s so unique, like he growls at other dogs if they are around me,” she explains, adding “I reckon I stole the best from the litter.”
Sydney wanted to breed a litter for herself and that was a goal that eventuated when on May 1 2021, Broken Penniless whelped a litter of six puppies to Dyna Dave.
“I had always wanted to breed a litter and care for my dogs with the best of my ability,” Cleeve said.
She certainly achieved that, rearing them and breaking them in, and has since enjoyed racing success with the litter.
“I guess you can call them a most interesting litter. They were annoying during break-in – they kept on standing next to me and trying to give me cuddles! I’m really proud of what they have done so far for me.”
Two of them, Gothams King and Gothams Queen, have won three races each.
There is also the friendly family rivalry that has been ongoing for a number of years. Cleeve’s parents have frequently gifted her and her brother Anthony animals. For example, cattle has been involved, which the siblings have raised from calves and then sold on the open market, pocketing the proceeds.
Greyhounds have also been involved, with one being Know Which. She enjoyed a stellar racing career prior to entering the breeding kennel, from where she has proved to be hugely successful.
Included in her progeny was Broken Penniless; however, it has been another from her, Know Jinx, who now holds the breeding limelight from the line, being the dam of the champion and current NZ Greyhound of the Year, in the star stayer Know Keeper.
And that’s where the family sibling rivalry really intensified. Anthony quickly claimed Know Keeper as a pup, while Cleeve put her dibs on Know Account.
“I admit that Know Keeper is a brilliant greyhound. However, in my eyes, Know Account will always be the greatest dog I have ever handled. He’s a funny dog who is so calm. He will always stay with me.
“My best experience was when Know Account finished fourth in his Silver Collar final (2022 – won by Know Keeper). I was disappointed when he wasn’t able to contest the recent Silver Collar, but he’s back working really great and he’s being aimed towards the Ray Adcock Memorial (732m – July 13).”
Cleeve also experienced a major road accident, when travelling four greyhounds to an Addington meeting with her mum in January 2021.
“Dad was racing down in Invercargill and mum and I were taking greyhounds in for the NZ Breeders’ Stakes heat. We were early into the trip when a car came out of a side road and rammed straight into our van, rolling it.
“My immediate concern was the dogs – I didn’t worry at first about mum, who I didn’t realise at the time was trapped inside!
“My first instinct was to check the dogs, and I got Know Threat and Know Account out. I then stupidly got onto the van to check Know Ratio and Know Keeper. Mum then called out that she was okay. They had to cut the two greyhounds out of the van.
“It was a horrible experience,” recalled Cleeve.
“Mum and dad have done a great job in raising us. I’m so very grateful to them for the opportunities they have given me. They are so kind and I love them very much.
“And despite the rivalry, we all work in together as a family. When dad and I are at the races, mum and Anthony will look after the dogs that are back at home.”
Cleeve says she is keen to go to Australia to link up with trainers and to experience racing across the ditch.
“I would love to do the same type of trip that Riley [Evans] recently did. That would be one of the best experiences in my life.
“I also like the youth award scheme, with the younger people being recognised. I consider Leaha [Washington] winning it being so inspiring. The opportunity is there for them to build their own empires. I have met so many wonderful people.
“I am very strong on the welfare side of the industry. Everything we can do as participants to lessen injuries will be terrific. I would like to be more involved in track preparation – anything that makes for safer racing.”
She also wishes to tick off a number of boxes as she develops as a trainer.
“It would be tremendous to train a Group race winner, especially a New Zealand Cup winner on my home track.
“A race I would really like to train the winner of is the NZ Sires Produce. I am aiming both Gothams King and Gothams Queen towards it.”
Now that would be keeping it in the family tradition, as Garry Cleeve has mentored six of the last nine winners of the Manukau Group 2 527m event, including Know Jinx who prevailed in the 2016 edition.
She also would also like to fulfil another goal: “At some stage, I would love to own my own property and set up as a breeding/training base, where I can care for my dogs.”