On The Watch

A quick mid-race pace in Tancred Stakes played into the hands of impressive winner Verry Elleegant

The Chris Waller-trained mare Verry Elleegant (Zed) capitalised on a quick mid-race pace to produce a career-best performance in taking out Saturday’s Tancred Stakes (Gr 1, 2400m) at Rosehill.

Ridden patiently by James McDonald, the 2019 ATC Australian Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m) winner settled well back in seventh place and was looking to be facing a difficult task after the leaders covered the first 1200 metres in a pedestrian 1:18.59 (13.09 200m rate), even allowing for the Soft 7 track.

But that situation changed suddenly shortly afterwards, when Brenton Avdulla aboard the Kris Lees-trained import Danceteria (Redoute’s Choice), could not tolerate the tempo any longer and took his mount from last in the nine-runner field to be in front approaching the 1000 metres.

The race changed complexion dramatically; after the first half of the 2400metre race clocked 1:18.59, the final 1200 metres clocked 1:12.54 (12.09 200m rate) – just over six seconds faster.

It turned the race into a true test and Verry Elleegant relished the task.

McDonald asked her to improve upon reaching the 600 metres, the mare then easily taking the lead at the 200 metres before racing away to score effortlessly by four and a quarter lengths, her third and most impressive Group 1 victory to date.

Verry Elleegant’s individual closing sectional times (after clocking 1:19.23 for her first 1200m) were: 1:11.95 (last 1200m), 59.22 (last 1000m), 46.99 (last 800m), 35.26 (last 600m) with her final 400 metres in 23.72.

With her stamina and racing manners coming to the fore as a four-year-old, Verry Elleegant now looms as a strong Caulfield Cup (Gr 1, 2400m) and Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) contender in the spring.

Especially significant is Verry Elleegant’s vastly improved racing manners that have seen her transformed from being sometimes wayward and ungainly to just being downright hard to manage in a field; she now appears to travel comfortably and quite relaxed, so it seems.

James McDonald’s riding is clearly a factor while leading trainer Chris Waller has excelled after he has persevered with a number of gear changes, mainly focusing on the use of ear muffs and a nose roll over a long period before dispensing with them recently.

And while there was a quick mid-race tempo in the Tancred Stakes, there was nothing similar in the Vinery Stud Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m), where the leader and eventual winner Shout The Bar (Not A Single Doubt) ran the first 1400 metres in only 1:33.57 (13.36 200m rate).

But while the tactics in the race, or lack thereof, favoured front-runners, the progressive Shout The Bar was quite impressive, nevertheless.

The lightly-raced Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained filly, who was having only her fourth race start, was challenged on a number of occasions from the home bend but continued to fight gamely before holding out Probabeel (Savabeel) with the other star filly Funstar (Adelaide) fourth. 

Shout The Bar dashed home the final 600 metres in a quick 34.71 (11.57 200m rate), a smart time albeit after setting such a very moderate early pace.


The runner-up Probabeel was certainly not disgraced under the circumstances where she clocked 34.28 (last 600m) and 22.49 (last 400m) in the sprint home.


While the third-placed Nudge (Fastnet Rock) clocked 34.57 (last 600m) and (22.84) and Funstar ran 34.61 (last 600m) and 22.84 (last 400m), sound times even if that filly’s defeat also suggested she was tested by the advance to 2000 metres.


However, there could be no complaints about the pace set in the Star Kingdom Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m) which saw the Anthony Cummings-trained sprinter Vegadaze (Lope de Vega) lead and lift gamely after some quick mid-race sections.


After going well at stakes grade on a number of occasions previously, it was Vegadaze’s first win at stakes level and it was a performance full of merit.


The four-year-old showed his customary pace and soon went to the front but he was then pressured by the favourite Villami (Foxwedge) before he dug deep under Tom Marquard’s riding to defeat Manicure (Exceed And Excel) by a short neck with Kementari (Lonhro) a close-up third.


Vegadaze’s mid-race sectionals (from the 1000m) were impressive: 22.77 (400m), 34.39 (600m), 45.68 (800m) and 57.48 – excellent times on the Soft 7 track.


Another Rosehill winner to go well on the watch was the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained colt Holyfield (I Am Invincible), who stamped his potential with a strong effort in winning the Schweppervensence (registered as T L Bailleu Handicap) (Gr 3, 1400m).


After a smart beginning, Holyfield went to the front but was hotly challenged on a number of occasions. However, he still retained his rails position before driving through to take a clear break rounding the home turn.


Holyfield then lifted gamely under a typically persuasive Tom Marquard ride before safely holding out the Peter and Paul Snowden-trained colt Untamed (Pierro) by three-quarters of a length, scoring in a time of 1:26.68.


But best demonstration of the merit of Holyfield’s win was his mid-race sections (from the 1200m) where the colt clocked: 23.62 (400m), 35.99 (600m), 48.11 (800m) and 60.45 for his 1000 metres to the 200 metre mark.


It was Holyfield’s third win in four starts and the colt’s first at stakes level but judging by Saturday’s effort it will be far from his last.