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Building a Verry special record - Bren O'Brien TDN AusNZ

With every elite victory on her resume, Verry Elleegant (NZ) (Zed {NZ}) enters rarer air in terms of the best-credentialled horses of the Group 1 era. With Saturday's G1 George Main S. victory, she joined the legendary Northerly (Serheed {USA}) on nine Group 1 wins.


There are now only nine horses across Australia and New Zealand who have won more Group 1 races than Verry Elleegant since that status was adopted in the late 1970s.


The horses on that list are headed by the undisputed champions of the turf across the past 40 years, such as Winx (Street Cry {Ire}) (25), Black Caviar (Bel Esprit) (15) and Kingston Town (Bletchingly) (14).


Arriving on the scene at the end of the career of her legendary stablemate, Winx, has probably worked against Verry Elleegant in terms of her public profile. Winx's astonishing feats through the latter part of the past decade are an impossible standard to live up to, but judged on her own merits, Verry Elleegant is a champion in any era.


She has now won Group 1 races at three, four, five and six at distances from 1400 metres to 2400 metres. Two of those Group 1s were against her own sex, five were under weight-for-age conditions against the boys, one under set weights and penalties conditions and one in a handicap, that being last year's Caulfield Cup.

Horse


Table: Leading Group 1 winners across Australia and New Zealand (since 1979)


As mentioned, she is equal tenth in the list of Group 1 winners, a list that rightly has an asterix, because it discounts those champions from previous eras. Even a horse like Manikato (Manihi), whose remarkable career straddled the introduction of Group 1 racing, has had his record in this regard somewhat unfairly diminished.

A superb Group 1 spread

Setting that aside for now, where Verry Elleegant is chasing more immediate history is in the status of which Group 1 races she has won. Remarkably, her nine Group 1 wins have come in nine different races.

Looking at the record of those horses who have won 10 or more Group 1 races overall in Australia and New Zealand, Winx leads the way in terms of the different Group 1 races she was succesful in. Her 25 Group 1 wins came in 11 individual races, having won the G1 Cox Plate, the G1 Chipping Norton S. and the G1 George Ryder S. four times each as well as many others on multiple occasions.


Black Caviar's 15 Group 1 wins came across 10 different races, while Kingston Town's 14 Group 1 wins were also across 10 different races, as were Lonhro's 11 Group 1 wins.


With wins in nine different Group 1 races, Verry Elleegant is level in fifth in that regard with Melody Belle (NZ) (Commands) (14 wins, in nine different races) and Octagonal (NZ) (10 in nine).


The 6-year-old mare will likely tackle the G1 Turnbull S. next, which is a race she won last year and could represent her first repeat victory. Her main spring target is the G1 Cox Plate, a race in which she finished 12th in 2019, but bypassed last year in favour of the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.


Table: Winners of different Group 1 races. *Discounts multiple wins in same race

She is currently second favourite for the Cox Plate, behind the boom import Zaaki (GB) (Leroidesanimaux {Brz}). Should she win that race, she would not only claim her 10th different Group 1 event, she would also become the first horse since Northerly in 2002 to win a Caulfield Cup and a Cox Plate in her career.

Waller's record builds further

Her ongoing success has also propelled the remarkable record of her trainer Chris Waller, who celebrated his 127th Group 1 winner with Verry Elleegant's win on Saturday. It is less than 13 and a half years since Waller trained his first Group 1 winner, Triple Honour (NZ) (Honours List {Ire}), and he is now closing in on Gai Waterhouse (134) as the leading active trainer when it comes to Group 1 successes.

It was also Waller's eighth victory in the past 10 editions of the George Main S., a dominance which is reflective of his overall supremacy of Australian racing in the past decade.


It is easy, and somewhat lazy, to characterise trainers of champion horses as just along for the ride, and as a supremely talented, but also temperamental racehorse, Verry Elleegant has elicited every bit of Waller's horsemanship to realise her potential.


"Verry Elleegant has elicited every bit of Waller's horsemanship to realise her potential."


Bred by Don Goodwin and raced by Jomara Bloodstock, Verry Elleegant's career began on a winter Saturday at Te Rapa under the guidance of trainer Nick Bishara, where she was defeated. A couple of good wins followed and she attracted the interest of Australian investors, who secured a significant share in her.


The 3-year-old filly joined the Darren Weir stable where it became apparent that while she possessed plenty of ability, she also had plenty to learn. Her time with Weir was highlighted by her win in the G3 Ethereal S., but also featured erratic and underwhelming performances in the G2 Wakeful S. and G1 VRC Oaks.


A nightmare turned fairytale

After Weir's disqualification, Verry Elleegant headed to Sydney, where Waller was charged with tapping into that obvious talent. It was not an easy task, as the trainer alluded to after Saturday's success.

"On her constitution, she wouldn’t eat as well as we liked. It was a nightmare just trying to get her to each race," Waller said.


"As they all do, she has strengthened up as an older horse and mentally she is a lot better. So that tells us that she is enjoying her racing and it all comes hand in hand.”


What was a liability in her early days, has become a great asset as an older horse and she showed every bit of that mental resilience to dig deep late in the George Main and get over the top of runaway leader Riodini (NZ) (Proisir).


"If she doesn’t win Group 1s, she runs second in them over all distances on all track conditions. That is a rare commodity,” Waller said.

View from the saddle

Few know the mare better than James McDonald, who has ridden her in seven of her nine Group 1 wins. Verry Elleegant is still very headstrong and has a tendency of being slow at the start, something which tests the tactical nous of her jockey.


“We are pretty well prepared with her now. Sometimes she jumps, sometimes she hasn’t. She has been extremely slow in the past," McDonald said after Saturday's race.


"She was pretty cranky today though. I was a little bit worried with her. Going around she was quite cantankerous and wanting to get on with it. Once I jumped a little bit slow, I didn’t have many options to be fair and just let it unfold as it went.”


Nobody has more faith in Verry Elleegant than McDonald, but when she spotted Riodini a big headstart in the George Main as they turned for home, he admitted he had his doubts. On a deteriorating track, she reeled off a final 400 metres of 23.16s, 0.96s, or around 6l, quicker than Riodini.


“When I looked up at the 500 metres and Riodini had shot clear I thought, 'Jesus it is going to take a mighty horse to run it down'. Both Think It Over and Verry Elleegant went together but she pulls out all stops this horse, she is just tough as nails,” he said.