A day for the ages for Zahra and Waller as Verry Elleegant takes Caulfield Cup

Source: The Age, By Michael Lynch,

In the biggest of races, class will always come to the fore – both equine and human.

And so it did in the Caulfield Cup, when Australia’s champion trainer Chris Waller saddled up the multiple group 1-winning mare Verry Elleegant to take the $5 million prize from the former Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, saddled by a man who has claims to being the world’s leading handler, Aidan O’Brien.

And when the whips were cracking at the sharp end of the world’s richest 2400-metre handicap it was two riders from the upper echelon who were to the fore, Mark Zahra, one of the leading jockeys in Victoria, and Sydney champion Hugh Bowman, who will forever be associated with another champion mare, Winx.

These two cleared away from the rest of the field to dominate the finish after the New Zealand-trained long shot The Chosen One, under Melbourne-based Kiwi rider Daniel Stackhouse, had made a bold bid to pinch the race.

The Chosen One hung on for an honourable third-place finish, just ahead of Prince Of Arran, who gave Jamie Kah a memorable first ride in the Caulfield feature.

The old English stayer, who seems to grow another leg when he gets to Australia, was running on better than anything at the finish and claimed fourth place: in that sort of order he will go very close once more in the Melbourne Cup, in which he has finished in the placings in the past two years.

But this race was all about the first two in the betting, who were the first two home.

Verry Elleegant might best be described as a bit of a moody mare: she has a high head carriage, she can look a little ungenerous – although Zahra was at pains to say she was entirely honest, just a little quirky – and does not like to be surrounded by too many other horses.

Anthony Van Dyck had the weight of history as his burden, but he made a valiant effort to set any number of records.

He was the first winner of the world’s most famous classic race, the Epsom Derby – progenitor of every other Derby in the world – to come to Australia to run in one of the great cups.

He had to carry 58.5 kilograms, giving up to eight kilos away to his 17 rivals, and he had to start from the second widest barrier of all, stall 17, as he looked to stamp his authority on the race.

Many expected Bowman to jump quickly and try and force the pace, but he mustered slowly and was out the back while Zahra, from one of the middle barriers, was able to take a better position.

That and the 3.5 kilos he was conceding may have been the difference in the end, but barriers, luck in running and the way the race plays out are all part and parcel of the great game.

The Chris Waller-trained Verry Elleegant has taken out the 2020 Caulfield Cup

Zahra had been enjoying an afternoon to remember, having ridden three winners earlier in the day and for jockeys, like all sportsmen, confidence is all; the gaps seem bigger, your judgment of pace seems sharper and the rhythm and ease you feel with your mount seems that much finer. It was hardly surprising that he declared it the finest day of his career, better even than the day just over 12 months ago when he landed two group 1 races, including the Caulfield Guineas on Super Seth.

His confidence and sense of timing proved perfect as he eased Verry Elleegant out to make her challenge at the 200-metre mark, with Bowman and Anthony Van Dyck following her through.

She got the upper hand on The Chosen One at the 100-metre point and Zahra explained afterwards that he thought she would simply accelerate away from the rest of the field.

But he hadn’t reckoned on the brave Irish stallion and Bowman, who were trying to run her down all the way to the line.

”All I wanted to do was to get her to the outside to get momentum,” the winning rider explained later.

”I thought she had quickened away to win, I didn’t know it was Anthony Van Dyck coming behind. She had one of the world’s best stayers coming after her [and she was good enough to hold him off].”

Asked about her quirks, Zahra was quick to point out that she is not as tricky as she appears.

”It’s not as bad as it might seem, she just doesn’t like a lot of horses around her,” he said.

It should be all systems go now for the 3200m Melbourne Cup, and Zahra is optimistic that she will stay the marathon trip at Flemington.

”I think she toughed it out then, and I think she was holding him [Anthony Van Dyck] to the line.”

If she displays the same resolution and drive at Flemington the mare, who on Saturday gave Waller his first Caulfield Cup, could well give the master his first Melbourne Cup too.


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