The handicapper is likely to decide the spring goal for Verry Elleegant, but history says the Cox Plate rather than the Melbourne Cup will be the target, after her class and toughness come through in the Winx Stakes at Randwick on Saturday.
Verry Elleegant’s talent could never be doubted, but her head occasionally got in the way of her showing it. She had never won first-up but is a more focussed mare in her fifth preparation.
On Saturday her class put her in a winning spot, which converted with an outstanding will to win.
“When Chris has ideas for the Melbourne Cup it’s scary she is winning at 1400 first-up,” jockey James McDonald said.
No Winx Stakes – formerly the Warwick Stakes – winner has gone on to win a Melbourne Cup in the same year, but it has provided a raft of Cox Plate winners, including the champion mare which the group 1 is now named in honour of and Kingston Town, which both used the race on three occasions at the beginning of their preparations.
There was an element of relief for the champion hoop after he had exposed the five-year-old mare to the strong headwind at 550-metre mark. It was quality that won the day.
“Thank god she won,” McDonald said getting off Verry Elleegant.
Trainer Chris Waller then offered: “That’s probably because he could feel my foot on his throat from the top of the straight.”
Verry Elleegant had every excuse not to win her fourth group 1, but she looks a different horse this campaign.
“She hasn’t changed her physique a lot but mentally she coped with what she is a lot better,” Waller said. “She puts a lot into her races and I think that might have disheartened her in the early days.
“That’s why she got a bit stressed and showed some negative body language. Now she has confidence in herself and is enjoying her racing.”
It was fully on show as Verry Elleegant was headed into the 200m by stablemate Star Of The Seas. The pair came together down the centre of the track after wide passages but Verry Elleegant dug in to score by a nose with an unlucky Fierce Impact only long head after having trouble finding a run on the fence.
“She has been trained to flow into her races and I didn’t want to stop her momentum, so I decided to let her flow into the race,” McDonald said. “I was thinking what have I done at the 200 but she just wanted to win.
“She would have to be the toughest mare I have had anything to do with.”
Waller will wait for the Melbourne Cup weights with Verry Elleegant, which was the best Australian middle distance in the autumn. She won a Tancred Stakes and was runner-up to English raider Addeybb in the Ranvet Stakes and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at 2000m. so the Cox Plate is the other option.
“She did a lot of work through the run and was still strong late,” Waller said. How do we get her to win every start this preparation?
“I don’t know but I want her to win the grand finals as well. Whether it is Cox Plate or Melbourne Cup – that has a good ring to it. She is the right horse to do it.”
The disappointment of the race was Master Of Wine, which failed to get into the race and finished well back.
“Second-up last preparation he went to 2000 from 1400 [metres] and that’s what he felt like he needed today,” Master Of Wine’s jockey Tommy Berry told stewards. “He feels like he’s looking for it, he’s much more relaxed now.”
– Chris Roots, The Sydney Morning Herald