06/14/2007 11:00PM

Father-son riders have rare rivalry


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - When most fathers and sons compete, it's on a recreational level. But not Tony McNeil and his son Bryan McNeil. They are both jockeys, and they have been riding against each other on a regular basis this meet at Lone Star Park.

Tony McNeil is 50, and last year he returned to race-riding following a nine-year hiatus. Bryan, 23, is an apprentice. He launched his career in 2004 as a Quarter Horse jockey, then switched over to Thoroughbreds in 2006. The situation set the stage for a unique showdown between father and son, and the two eventually rode their first race against each other on Feb. 23 at Sam Houston Race Park.

"It's very rare, in any sport, really," said Tony McNeil. "You don't see too many professional baseball and football players that are father and son. You just don't.

"But there are some father-sons that are riding, like Dylan Williams and R.D. Williams. They rode together in Nebraska this year. And the Cordovas, they used to ride against each other. But it's a rarity."

The McNeils are competitive with one another, but they also have fun, said Tony McNeil.

"The first race that we rode against each other, he was on the lead and I was coming from off the pace and I knew I was going to win it," said Tony McNeil. "I was hollering when I was coming down the lane, 'I'm coming to get ya!' He liked that. It was fun."

Bryan McNeil said he wanted to be a jockey the first time he saw his father ride. He began galloping horses after he graduated from high school.

"It's always fun to ride with your dad," he said. "As we're riding together, he can be there to teach me. We've always talked about riding together, and now it's happening."

Bryan's agent is Larry Spraker, a former jockey who years ago worked as Tony McNeil's agent. Spraker has Bryan riding for a broad base of clients, while Tony McNeil is a stable rider for trainer Cheryl Asmussen, the wife of former champion jockey Cash Asmussen.

Cash Asmussen and Tony McNeil rode against each other earlier in their careers, and it was Cash Asmussen who encouraged Tony McNeil to make a comeback. He wanted Tony to ride horses he owned. McNeil had hung up his tack in 1996 after he broke his femur in a three-horse spill. He mounted a brief comeback following the spill, but now is back for the long haul. And with good reason. Tony McNeil is winning races. He also has another son, Erik, 20, who is on pace to launch his career as a jockey in the next year.

"I'll still be in the game," said Tony McNeil. "I have to, now. He doesn't want me to retire until at least I ride against him."

More Than Regal to Cornhusker

More Than Regal, who finished a close fourth last out in the Grade 3, $200,000 Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star, will be moving back to dirt for his next start. His trainer, Steve Asmussen, said he is being pointed for the Grade 2, $300,000 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup at Prairie Meadows on June 30.

"Winning two derbies at Prairie Meadows last year, I can't not go a year without running him at Prairie Meadows," said Asmussen.

More Than Regal won both the $250,000 Iowa Derby and the $75,000 Prairie Meadows Derby at Prairie Meadows in 2006. Overall, he has won 5 of 22 starts and $587,131.

Beta Capo is also set to make a road trip for Asmussen. The winner of the $60,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge here on April 28, he will make his next start at Arlington Park. Asmussen said he is being pointed for the Grade 3, $150,000 Arlington Classic for 3-year-olds on turf June 23.

* Dyna's Diva makes her two-turn debut in the fifth race Sunday at Lone Star. The first-level allowance will be run at a mile and is restricted to fillies and mares bred in Texas. In her last start, Dyna's Diva closed for second in a six-furlong allowance here May 5. Bret Calhoun trains her, and Ramsey Zimmerman will ride.