Curtain comes down on champion mare’s career

By Richard Edmunds

26 Oct 2022

Curtain comes down on champion mare’s careerVerry Elleegant (James McDonald) scores the win she will be best remembered for in the 2021 Melbourn

In between the runnings of Melbourne’s two great handicaps that marked such special moments in Verry Elleegant’s career in 2020 and 2021, the spring of 2022 brought a very different milestone with the decision to retire the mighty mare from racing.
The winner of the Caulfield Cup two years ago and breathtakingly dominant in the Melbourne Cup a year later, Verry Elleegant’s career drew to a close with a ninth placing in the Gr. 1 British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes at Ascot two weeks ago.
“Verry Elleegant will rightfully take her place among the pantheon of Australia’s champion racehorses, with a record that compares favourably with any stayer of the modern era,” her ownership group said in a statement.
“She demonstrated remarkable durability and consistency at the highest level throughout her career. Her lasting legacy won’t be measured by her prize-money or Group One tally, but more so by the joy and happiness she brought her legion of fans. Her indomitable will to win inspired us all.
“The Verry Elleegant story is far from over and we now look forward to the next chapter in her remarkable story – her life as a mum. The plan is to keep her in the pristine fields of France until she can be served by a leading European stallion in Northern Hemisphere time next year.”
Verry Elleegant was bred by Auckland octogenarian Don Goodwin and is by Zed out of the Danroad mare Opulence – an unfashionable pedigree perhaps, but one that traces back to the great Eight Carat on both sides.
Initially trained by Nick Bishara, who joined Goodwin in the ownership, the freakish racehorse scored a maiden win at Ruakaka in August 2018 that had to be seen to be believed. Unleashed from near-last by jockey Rowena Smyth, she bounded past her rivals like they were standing still and went clear to win by two and a half lengths.
Another win at Matamata followed in September, after which a majority share of the ownership was sold in a deal brokered by Sydney-based Kiwi bloodstock agent Andrew Williams.
Verry Elleegant crossed the Tasman and initially joined the stable of Darren Weir, for whom she won the Gr. 3 Ethereal Stakes, placed in the Gr. 2 Edward Manifold Stakes and was unplaced in the Gr. 2 Wakeful Stakes and Gr. 1 VRC Oaks.
Weir’s disqualification saw her transferred into the care of Chris Waller, and it was that champion expat Kiwi horseman – along with star jockey James McDonald – who truly unlocked her enormous potential.
Verry Elleegant won 13 of her 31 starts for Waller, including all of her 11 Group One triumphs. She first rose to stardom as an autumn three-year-old in the Vinery Stud Stakes and Australian Oaks, and later added the Tancred Stakes, Winx Stakes, Turnbull Stakes, Caulfield Cup, Chipping Norton Stakes (twice), Ranvet Stakes, George Main Stakes and Melbourne Cup.
She won a Group One over 1400 metres, three over 1600, three over 2000, three over 2400 and one over the ultimate distance of 3200 metres. She earned over A$14 million in stakes and was crowned Australia’s Horse of the Year in 2020-21.
After enjoying such a wonderful ride together across more than three seasons, the story ended on a sour note for Verry Elleegant’s ownership group, who were divided over the idea of a campaign in Europe in the twilight of the great mare’s career.
The decision to send her into the care of French trainer Francis Graffard prompted 20 per cent of the ownership group to opt out of their share, including Goodwin and Bishara. Verry Elleegant was a shadow of her former self in those final four starts, with her only placing a well-beaten third in a six-horse field in the Gr. 2 Prix Foy.
This spring has been the end of an era in more ways than one for Goodwin, who also lost Opulence in September after she foaled a full-sister to Verry Elleegant.