IN Our Horses
Hawkes Bay Racing Column - November 6
Verry Elleegant a champion of the turf after dominant Cup win
John Jenkins | November 06, 2021
New Zealand-bred mare Verry Elleegant and Kiwi jockey James McDonald

New Zealand-bred mare Verry Elleegant confirmed her champion status when cruising to a four length victory in Tuesday’s $A8million Melbourne Cup on the Flemington track in Melbourne.

She became the first of her sex to win the famous race since Makybe Diva completed a hat-trick of victories in 2003, 2004 and 2005. She also brought up her 10th Group 1 victory while also crediting ex-pat New Zealand trainer Chris Waller with his 129th success at the elite level and Kiwi jockey James McDonald with his 57th.

The class horse of the field, with 14 previous wins from only 33 starts, Verry Elleegant lumped 57kgs in the handicap event and overcame a wide barrier (19). But she travelled sweetly throughout the 3200m race, albeit three-wide, as she tracked big European-hope Spanish Mission all the way.

Red-hot favourite Incentivise hit the front with 400m to run, but Verry Elleegant soon had his measure, charging away to beat that runner by four lengths, with Spanish Mission finishing third.

A six-year-old daughter of Grangewilliam Stud stallion Zed, who commenced her career in New Zealand, Verry Elleegant recorded a slick 3:17.43 for the 3200m.

Champion jockey James McDonald was overcome with emotion as he crossed the line to win his first Melbourne Cup on a mare that has been a big part of his push to the top of Australian racing.

“I love her to bits. She has been so good to me. I can safely say she is a champion now isn’t she? She knows,” McDonald said.

“She was relaxed the whole way. I can’t believe what has just happened. I never thought I would ever win one. I’ve always dreamed of winning a Melbourne Cup but they are so hard to win. Dreams do come true when you’re piloting superstars.”

McDonald praised the talents of fellow Kiwi Chris Waller, who has been champion Sydney trainer every year since season 2010/11.

“He just goes through his processes and makes sure every box is ticked. It is why he is as good as he is. I am so lucky to be in his team. We have a lot of luck together and we know each other so well,” McDonald said.

Originally from Cambridge, McDonald was champion jockey in New Zealand before relocating across the Tasman where he has continued his dominance. 

“I wish COVID wasn’t on because my parents would be here from New Zealand. My brother, he’d be watching and I just wish they were here,” he said.

“They will just be elated. I have a huge fan base (in New Zealand) and I’m very lucky to have it.”

For Himatangi-raised Waller, it was his first Melbourne Cup triumph, and he watched the victory from his lounge room in Sydney along with wife Steph and kids Tyler and Nikita.

Waller decided against travelling to Melbourne due to COVID restrictions which would have required him to isolate for five days upon returning to Sydney under Racing NSW protocols.

“Racing is such an amazing sport, which brings everyone together on the greatest day,” Waller said.

“We’re the lucky ones that get to work with these great horses and seeing them come home safe and at the front of the field safe is pretty special.

“There is so much that goes on week-in, week-out. People don’t really understand what goes into these great horses and great races. This is a very special reward.”

Waller’s first memory of the Cup was Kiwi winning in 1983 when he watched the race back home in New Zealand as an eight-year-old. The horse hailed from Waverley, just down the road from where the star horseman grew up.

“They will be very proud back in New Zealand, that’s for sure,” Waller said.

“To have a New Zealand horse, New Zealand jockey, New Zealand trainer with a New Zealand wife, it would be very special.”

Much of New Zealand was celebrating the Cup triumph, including Verry Elleegant’s breeder and part-owner Don Goodwin, who watched on from Auckland, as did her original trainer Nick Bishara, for whom the mare won two of her first three starts before her partial sale across the Tasman.

Bishara, Goodwin and a host of fellow Kiwis continue to share in the ownership of the star mare, who is raced by a trans-Tasman syndicate.

There were also wild scenes of jubilation from a gathering at the Corcoran family’s Grangewilliam Stud in Waitotara, South Taranaki, where Verry Elleegant was born and raised and where her hitherto unheralded sire Zed stands.

Like another famous graduate of Grangewilliam Stud, 1995 Caulfield and Melbourne Cup winner Doreimus, Verry Elleegant has now claimed the two feature Cups and advanced her career earnings to A$14.3 million in prizemoney.


Record NZ betting on Cup

Verry Elleegant’s dominant win in Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup was a red letter day for the New Zealand thoroughbred industry, and a record day for betting with TAB NZ on the iconic race.

The six-year-old mare’s four-length victory provided star Kiwi jockey James McDonald and expat Kiwi trainer Chris Waller with a much sought-after Melbourne Cup, and the New Zealand breeding industry with another feather in its cap, but it also rounded out a day where customers converted to the TAB’s digital channels in record numbers.

In light of Alert Level restrictions across New Zealand, there was a notable shift in customers moving online. There were more than 12,000 new TAB account sign-ups on the day, up 76% on 2020, and active customers on the day through digital channels topped 108,000. This was the first time more than 100,000 customers have been active on Melbourne Cup Day or any day in the TAB’s history and was up 20% on last year’s figure of 90,000.

At the height of the day, TAB NZ’s systems were handling a record 6500 bets per minute as customers rushed to get their bets on, with many opting for Verry Elleegant, The Chosen One and Ocean Billy due to their strong New Zealand connections.

Despite the extra traffic, the TAB’s digital channels handled the record numbers well and system performance was solid throughout the day even with a peak of 47,451 concurrent users - up from 40,000 last year - just before the race jumped. The site traffic peaked shortly after the race with more than 59,000 users checking results at the same time, up from 44,000 in 2020 and 38,000 in 2018.

While Verry Elleegant’s win was a losing result for the TAB, turnover on the race was strong with $11.7 million bet on the Cup itself, up by 1% on last year’s record figure. Turnover for the day reached $26.5 million across all meetings, right in line with last year’s record result.

One astute customer took a speculative bet before the Caulfield Cup, placing $1000 on Incentivise to win the Caulfield Cup into Verry Elleegant to win the Melbourne Cup to collect $182,000.

Another by Zed chasing Cup glory

The sire Zed may well have had two runners in this year’s Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) had it not been for the current complications of trans-Tasman travel.

His daughter Verry Elleegant recorded a resounding victory on Tuesday, while the Flemington feature had also been on the radar of the Grangewilliam Stud stallion’s promising son Beaudz Well.

New Plymouth trainer John Wheeler had been keen on a Victorian venture for his highly regarded five-year-old, but travel restrictions forced him to ditch that plan.

“I brought him back into work earlier with a view to the Melbourne Cup, but I pulled the pin because of COVID, it was just going to be too hard. Maybe we’ll go next year,” Wheeler said.

“It was a big run by that mare in the Cup and the good thing about the Zeds is that the really good ones like Verry Elleegant, Irish Flame, Waisake and Beaudz Well go on dry tracks and the slower Zeds are good on heavy tracks.”

Wheeler has now sent Beaudz Well to Riccarton where he will line up in today’s  Metropolitan Trophy (2500m), his immediate target ahead of the Group 3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) next Saturday.

Sam Weatherley will retain the ride on the gelding following their last-start second in the Listed Stephanos Classic (1950m) at Rotorua.

“He’s not that far away from top class and he’s run well in some good races. The Metropolitan will suit him and as long as he goes well, he’ll run in the Cup,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler will be chasing his third victory in the New Zealand Cup, having prepared Waltermitty to win in 2004 and then struck again two years later with Pentathon.

Beaudz Well performed with distinction at the New Zealand Cup meeting 12 months ago, finishing runner-up in a Benchmark 65 event over 2500m on the first day and then backing up to score over 2000m on the second day.

He has won four of his 28 starts and was also third in last season’s Listed New Zealand St Leger (2600m).

Beaudz Well was bred by long-time stable clients of Wheeler, John and Carole Lynskey, who remain in an ownership group that also includes star All Black Beauden Barrett.


Go Racing’s great fundraiser

Last week South Island apprentice jockey Yong Chew received just under $49,000—money raised by Go Racing through their golf tournament and auction.

The 25-year-old is battling throat cancer, a fight compounded by the fact he has found himself completely isolated from his family and friends due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions.

Keen to support someone in obvious need, Go Racing hosted a golf tournament and auction in October raising $49,000 that will be paid to Chew to help with travel and treatment costs.

“I had no idea how big the fundraiser would become,” Go Racing’s Matt Allnutt said.

“We have a very generous bunch of owners and very generous people in the racing industry as a whole. It started as a social golf tournament but we wanted to have a purpose behind it and when we heard about Yong and his situation we wanted to help.

“We had great support from right around New Zealand and internationally with people donating some great items to be auctioned off. It has certainly surpassed any expectations we had when we started out planning this and we are just happy we can do this for Yong.”