Verry Elleegant lands an epic Caulfield Cup

Ultra-tenacious racemare Verry Elleegant (NZ) (by Zed) lived right up to the proud traditions of Kiwi-bred stayers when proving to be a determined winner of an epic renewal of the $5 million, Group 1, Stella Artois Caulfield Cup (2400m) in Melbourne on Saturday.

A star weight-for-age performer in Australia over the past 12-to-18 months, the Chris Waller-trained multiple Group 1 winner was arguably faced by her biggest challenge to date in the first major Cup of the spring.

The outcome proved to be the perfect scenario — her well-earned reputation even further enhanced by virtue of a narrow success over an Epsom Derby winner no less!

In one of the highest calibre Caulfield Cups witnessed in recent time, racegoers were treated to a finish for the ages when two outstanding racehorses from opposite sides of the world fought hammer and nail.

Responding valiantly to a Mark Zahra drive was the bonny 5-year-old racemare, making every effort to hold-off a sustained challenge mounted by Hugh Bowman aboard overseas invader Anthony van Dyck (Ire) (by Galileo).

In the end, it was Verry Elleegant that was able to maintain a slender advantage, though it took all her might to claim the biggest success of her celebrated career.

Conceding 3.5kgs to the winner, Anthony van Dyck (Ire) (by Galileo) arguably turned in one of the finest Caulfield Cup performances in recent history when only just failing to overhaul Verry Elleegant (NZ) in what ultimately became a slogging match over the final 250 metres of a truly memorable horse race.

Though beaten, his exceptional CV gained even more credibility than it had before making the relatively unexpected trip Down Under.

Finishing a valiant third proved to be the Murray Baker-Andrew Forsman trained The Chosen One (NZ) (by Savabeel), with proven international performer Prince of Arran (GB) rattling home for a clear fourth.

Anthony Van Dyck (IRE) and Hugh Bowman outside Verry Elleegant (NZ) and Mark Zahra, picture Racing Photos

Presently riding at the height of his considerable powers, winning jockey Mark Zahra seemed more concerned with his technique in the finish than delivering the desired result.

“All I was thinking across the line was, I took my rein in — this is going to look shithouse,” stated Zahra soon after crossing the line first. 

“But, nah, it’s a great feeling. Gee she’s tough when the other horse joined her.

“To win a Caulfield Cup … unfortunately no crowd, but to win a Cup is amazing.“

Well-known for being a complex ride for her partners, Verry Elleegant produced her career-best performance under Zahra.

Quick to deflect too much credit, Zahra added: “I don’t know if it was my soft hands that did the job. When she gets to 2400 metres the main thing is to get her in a rhythm.

“I wasn’t in a bad spot, but the stablemate was putting some pressure on me to go to the fence, which she didn’t like. But all I wanted to do was get to the outside … I had to give her a razzle-up on the turn but, like I say, she was very tough.”

Representing the winning Chris Waller stable, Melbourne foreperson Jo Taylor claimed: “I can’t stress enough what a big team effort it is. [The] Sydney [team] have done a fantastic job getting her to where she was, to get her down here. And the team down here has worked tirelessly, and really deserve a big win like this.”

Taylor continued: “She’s just kept maturing with age. You would imagine she will continue to do that as she steps up, and hopefully this year we will head on to a Melbourne Cup. The further she goes, the stronger she seems. She is a phenomenal endurance athlete.”

Taylor also offered deserved praise for the winning ride.

“Mark [Zahra] did a great job. At one stage we were looking like being caught on the fence, but he made sure he stayed off. They went really slow through those mid-sections and he kept her out of trouble … she’s certainly very tough.”

Speaking from Royal Randwick racecourse in Sydney, Chris Waller said: “You think of all the negatives when you’ve got good horses around you.

“I thought that weight, 55 kilos, might not sound a lot to those at home, but I can assure you, Caulfield Cup history would suggest mares with 55 kilos, they don’t win very often.”

As good as the performance of Verry Elleegant undoubtedly was, the effort of Anthony van Dyck (GB) was astonishing. Close to last on settling, the Ballydoyle-trained entire was set alight by Bowman around 800 metres from home and virtually had to round every one of his rivals. 

Speaking after finishing the narrowest of seconds, Bowman commented: “Great run. Superb effort. We had a beautiful run in transit and I got going when it suited me. I thought I had the race at my mercy at the 300 (metres), but all credit to the winner. She’s so tough.”

Official margins of the 2020 Caulfield Cup were a Short Neck x ¾L.

Winning time was 2m31.97s (last 600m in 36.97s).

Starting prices on the race were Verry Elleegant (NZ) $5.00 favourite, Anthony Van Dyck (Ire) $6.00, and The Chosen One (NZ) $61.00.

Verry Elleegant (NZ) is raced by Jomara Bloodstock Ltd, Ellee, Balmerino Racing Partnership, Mr M Wanzare, Mr T K Barry, Mr B F Sokolski, Mr A Kheir, Mr K M Stocker, Honeycomb Stud, Mr J A O’Neill & Mr V Kheir and is now the winner of $6,896,044 in prizemoney following 11 wins and six placings from 24 starts. Her victories feature six wins at Group 1 level.

Passing the Clock tower, picture Racing Photos

What the beaten jockeys said:

Michael Walker on Dashing Willoughby: “Might’ve injured a muscle or something when he jumped out, he knuckled down. Disappointing.”

Jye McNeil on Chapada: “With the weight, I thought with the weight that I’d get going a bit earlier and see if that helps but probably the wrong thing to do in hindsight, but he still ran honest.”

Craig Williams on Master Of Wine: “He got into a lovely position. He might’ve been doing it a little bit keen where he was. I thought we came under fire at the 600 (metre mark), a bit too early for his ability but he made himself feel a bit vulnerable where he was today.

Ben Melham on Buckhurst: “I thought he ran well.”

Damian Lane on Finche: “Really good run. The midrace slacken really went against him because I had to get going on him too early into the race because he’s not a sit-and-sprint horse. He was so honest. Ran well.”

John Allen on Avilius: “He’s going super. Had a beautiful run to the home straight and just needed at gap at the top of the straight and it didn’t open.”

Damien Oliver on Vow And Declare: “He’s just not quickening now. He’s very one-paced. I think we have to ride him a bit more forward to see if he can keep grinding away that way, because he’s just not showing any change of speed.”

Billy Egan on Mustajeer: “I thought he ran super. He ran on very nicely. I think he’s going well, just not quite up to them.”

Daniel Moor on Raheen House: “We had a beautiful run, but not quite wet enough today.”

Daniel Stackhouse on The Chosen One: “He ran absolutely super. We probably got the gap a little bit late but he stuck to his guns. Full credit to the trainer and owners.”

Willie Pike on Dalasan: “Didn’t get a good run but he tried.”

Craig Newitt on Mirage Dancer: “He travelled really good but he got put out of the race at 600 (metres). He got stood on his head and wasn’t able to recover from it.”

Huge Bowman on Anthony Van Dyck: “Great run, superb effort. We had a beautiful run in transit and I got going when it suited me. I thought I had the race at my mercy at the 300 (metres) but all credit to the winner. She’s so tough.”

Jamie Kah on Prince Of Arran: “Absolutely super. He didn’t ealy at all to get across so I had to cop and go back on him, but god he was a big run from the rear of the field.”

Declan Bates on True Self: “Traveled great but didn’t let down on that soft shifty ground and will improve from the run.”

Michael Dee on Toffee Tongue: “We ended up in a nice enough spot. On a steady tempo just travelled quite keen the whole way.”

Luke Currie on Warning: “They were just a bit sharp for him around Caulfield. He’ll be better on the bigger, flat track at Flemington.”

Turning for home, picture Racing Photos