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Elleegant Caulfield Cup as Zed trumps Galileo

Legend bound for Hong Kong, Belle edges closer to Sunline and Addeybb a ‘Champion’ after thrilling spring raceday

The romance of the Australian turf has always been idealised in its role as a great leveller, with a system of predominantly handicaps – even at the highest level – acting as an equaliser that embodies Australia’s egalitarian self-identity.

Even as class casts aside the weights, there is still magic to be found in testing some of the world’s finest bloodlines against those which, at one time, were destined to die out.

So it proved yesterday in one of Australia’s greatest races as a daughter of the once-banished Zed (Zabeel), Verry Elleegant, held off an Epsom Derby winner by the world’s greatest stallion Galileo (Sadler’s Wells), Anthony Van Dyck, to take out the Caulfield Cup (Gr 1, 2400m), the first of Melbourne’s three spring features.

In fact, Very Elleegant was one of three Group 1 winners yesterday – in three different countries, no less – to come out of the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) at Randwick in April. Winner Addeybb (Pivotal) scored a first British Group 1 win in the Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 1m 2f) at Ascot, while Melody Belle (Commands) lifted the Livamol Classic (Gr 1, 2040m) at Hastings to record Group 1 win number 12. 

It was Verry Elleegant, though, who was the star of the show with her tenacious Caulfield Cup success.

In a case of class conquering the handicaps, five-time Group 1 winner and favourite Verry Elleegant (5 m Zed – Opulence by Danroad) held off top-weight Anthony Van Dyck to win by a short neck with three-quarters of a length to longshot The Chosen One (Savabeel) back in third.

Prince Of Arran (Shirocco) produced an eye-catching Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) trial, flashing home for fourth, just under two lengths from the winner.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, it was a Caulfield Cup run in front of empty grandstands. The usual throngs who would flock to Melbourne’s east were instead at home, weary after weeks of a city-wide lockdown.

A shame, too, given this was a Caulfield Cup for the ages, despite a strangely-run race and any number of incidents of interference, hard luck stories and perplexing efforts.

Zed, a maiden winner who was once favourite for the New Zealand Derby (Gr 1, 2400m) before injury brought his career to a premature end, boasted a handy pedigree, being out of the Group 1-winning mare Emerald Dream (Danehill).

His brother Zabene and his half-brother Knight’s Command (Pins) were decent stakes winners at a trip, but it was hoped that his lineage – which traces back to blue hen Eight Carat (Pieces Of Eight) – could shine through at stud.

And according to Verry Elleegant’s breeder Don Goodwin, who belongs to the Zed Partnership Syndicate that owns the stallion, he would have been a special horse if he had not broken down at the beginning of his career. 

“I’ve got shares in Zed so it cost me nothing,” Goodwin said. “He wasn’t [a high profile horse] but if he hadn’t broken down, he would have been. He could gallop as good as she [Verry Elleegant] can, he was something else.

“Originally, he was coming over to Australia as a two-year-old to the Freedmans, but a horse went berserk in the float with him and he got quite badly injured. We bought him back as a three-year-old, he won his first start and he was favourite for the Waikato Guineas. He broke down, but still finished sixth. We tried to get him back but we weren’t very successful.”

Purchased by Little Avondale Stud, he stood his first season for NZ$500. Shipped to Erewhon Station, nestled among New Zealand’s Southern Alps, he was being used to breed cross-breeds, serving Clydesdales in addition to a handful of thoroughbred mares.

Eventually finding his way to Grangewilliam Stud as his slow-maturing progeny began to hit their straps, he has since sired 12 individual stakes winners from 251 runners, with Survived his only other Group 1 winner along with Verry Elleegant. His most popular horse aside from his Caulfield Cup winner has arguably been Zed Em, the now ten-year-old who has earned more than AUD$1 million through his wins in some of Australia’s biggest steeplechases.

“He’s never been high profile and never will be,” said Goodwin. “At the last sales in January, I think we sold six of them and three of them went to Australia. The Aussies like him more as a sire than the Kiwis do. 

“I used to watch her work and I told one of the members of the leasehold group when I saw her gallop, well before she had been to a trial, this filly will win an Oaks. Not dreaming that it was going to be an Australian Oaks at Randwick, but she was something else. 

“Melody Belle (Commands) won the big Group 1 in New Zealand today and won it brilliantly, but I think she is as good as Melody Belle.

Goodwin was unable to travel to Caulfield to watch the star mare, but instead cheered her on at home with his wife. 

“I would have been there with bells on today,” said Goodwin. “It’s only the two of us here but we shouted her down. I knew we’d hold on. The last 50 metres she is strong. She can gallop further than anyone else. She’s won at all the top courses.”

Zed stands at Grangewilliam Stud for a fee of NZ$6,000 (plus GST) in 2020.

Legend scales Everest, Hong Kong next

The Hong Kong Jockey Club will grant an exception to The Everest (1200m) winner Classique Legend (5 g Not A Single Doubt – Pinocchio by Encosta De Lago) to join the stable of Caspar Fownes, with owner Bon Ho keen to tackle the world – starting with the Hong Kong Sprint (Gr 1, 1200m) – after he conquered Australia’s biggest monetary prize at Randwick yesterday.

Classique Legend has long shaped as a sprinter of the highest calibre but the arrogant manner in which he took the world’s richest race on turf was breathtaking. He defeated Group 1 winners Bivouac (Exceed And Excel) and Gytrash (Lope De Vega) by two and a half lengths and three lengths respectively to claim the $15 million feature. 

It justified octogenarian trainer Les Bridge’s pronouncement that the five-year-old is on par with, if not better than, his 1983 Golden Slipper Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) hero Sir Dapper (Vain) and his popular mare Hot Danish (Nothin’ Leica Dane).

“The horse I got the most pleasure out of in my life was Hot Danish, because at the time my wife was dying with cancer and every time that horse won it gave her a lift. So there will never be a horse to replace Hot Danish in my sentiments,” Bridge said yesterday. “But this horse has got a girth on him that deep and he’s just got a big V8 motor. It’s unbelievable.”

Classique Legend was due to head to Hong Kong after finishing midfield in last year’s Everest, but the trip was aborted twice, according to Ho’s racing manager Carmel Size. She purchased the Wallings Bloodstock-bred grey for $400,000 at the 2017 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale.

“I love him so much, I’ve been obsessed with him since I laid eyes on him. That is a great horse, we have seen something special today,” she said.

“I’m so proud of the horse. To think I bought him as a yearling and I’ve been able to look after him, it’s just been the world to me. I might have to retire now.

“He was on the flight twice, it got shot down and he came back to me. He’s been in the stable since March 21, a very unorthodox preparation, but gee, what a marvel Les Bridge is. He’s a legend.”

If he had gone, he would have tackled the Four-Year-Old Classic Series, featuring the Hong Kong Classic Mile (Listed, 1600m), the Hong Kong Classic Cup (Listed, 1800m) and the Hong Kong Derby (Listed, 2000m); all three legs were won by Golden Sixty (Medaglia d’Oro), the new star on the Hong Kong scene.

However, if Ho’s plan comes to fruition, perhaps the mantle of Hong Kong’s leading horse will be up for debate over the coming months. A clash with his younger half-brother Aethero (Sebring), currently on the sidelines due to injury, is also potentially on the cards.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club closely controls its Private Purchase imports – those that arrive in the territory having raced abroad – and generally, horses must arrive before the start of their five-year-old season.

Nevertheless, the South China Morning Post reported that Ho would receive an exception to ship Classique Legend to Sha Tin, with the owner confirming to Andrew Bensley last night that his intention was to put his star into quarantine on Monday and give him 12 months to tackle the world before returning to defend his title in 2021.

“I’ve got a slot in The Everest for three years and Classique Legend is likely to return next year – unless I have a better sprinter at home,” Ho said.

“But I think Classique Legend is one of the top two or three sprinters in the world if he is ridden the right way. I think the horse will have a better opportunity to shine globally if he is based in Hong Kong.

“We can race him in Dubai, Tokyo and even Royal Ascot but I hope he can be back in Sydney next year for The Everest again. With his ability, he should be an international horse and I think the Hong Kong Jockey Club has the better facilities for him, they will be able to cater for him and do all the paperwork for me.”

For rider Kerrin McEvoy, it was his third Everest win in what was just the race’s fourth year, following up on his victories aboard Redzel (Snitzel). 

“It is an unbelievable feeling to win another one,” he said. “Every big win is special. I was lucky enough to team up with Redzel soon after he got racing with the Snowdens. This is a horse that Carmel and Les threw me on really early in his career and he showed instant brilliance. 

“I backed him to the hilt from then on to win a good race. Last year was a tough call, I had to stick solid with Redzel and the Snowdens and this horse was a little bit unlucky.

“We’ve all been on the same page that the horse has come back bigger and better. It is extra special.”

Classique Legend’s win yesterday took his record to six wins and four placings from 12 starts with prize-money of $8,635,500. That places him inside the top 10 highest-earning Australian-trained horses of all time.

It also catapults Arrowfield Stud’s now-pensioned Not A Single Doubt (Redoute’s Choice) to the top of the Australian general sires table. Even with Classique Legend unlikely to provide a further boost to his overall total, he will be represented in the coming months by horses like Farnan, Anders, Doubtland and Instant Celebrity, all capable of bolstering his total earnings.

It’s Me lands Kosciuszko and eyes Everest

The Everest’s baby brother, the $1.3 million The Kosciuszko (1200m) for country-trained horses, may have produced a rival for Classique Legend next year with the Brett Cavanough-prepared It’s Me (4 m Shamus Award – It’s You by Celtic Swing) remaining unbeaten in victory yesterday.

It’s Me only debuted at Scone on August 4, scoring comfortably before winning two Highway Handicaps at Randwick.

She entered the race as favourite and as the X-factor horse, even despite presenting with mucus earlier in the week. Sent off at even money, her backers would have been nervous upon straightening as Jason Collett endeavoured to maneuver her to the outside.

Once clear, she was flying, but the Mitch Beer-trained Redouble (Redoute’s Choice) had snuck up the inside. The two came away to fight it out, with It’s Me scoring by a long head over Redouble; Man Of Peace (Zariz) was a further length away in third.

It’s Me’s stablemate Fender (Toronado), the second favourite, finished seventh.

“Are you allowed to cry?” Cavanough asked in jest. “Obviously she’s a very good mare. They’re both pretty special horses, Fender and It’s Me, there’s not much difference between them two at home but race day she just finds six or eight lengths, she’s just amazing.

“You see what she did today, she was in trouble, knocked them down, got down, balanced up and got the job done.

“I thought one of those old horses would come to the fore today. It was Mitchell Beer’s horse. He was a tough old horse first up, good form and she still got the job done to beat him.”

Bred by John Carter, It’s Me was passed in as a foal out of the Kitchwin Hills draft at the 2017 Magic Millions National Weanling Sale. Appearing at the 2018 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale, the filly was purchased for $65,000 by Grand Syndicates.

After yesterday’s fourth win from as many starts, her prize-money has reached $816,700, with Collett believing that the next target of a Group 1 win is within reach.

“She’s only had four starts, she just beat some open grade sprinters. She’s very smart,” he said. “I can’t quite tell you how high she’ll get to but the way she’s going I would like to say Group 1.”

Empire Rose no path to Sunline for Belle

Melody Belle (6 m Commands – Meleka Belle by Iffraaj) is highly unlikely to chase a record-equalling 13th Group 1 win in defence of her Empire Rose Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) title at Flemington on October 31, despite a tremendous repeat victory in the Livamol Classic (Gr 1, 2040m) yesterday.

Forced to race back and wide after jumping slightly slowly, an occasional habit of hers, the Jamie Richards-prepared Melody Belle unleashed a withering turn of foot down the centre of the Hastings track under Troy Harris to win her second Livamol Classic, defeating stablemate Avantage (Fastnet Rock) by two and three quarter lengths in a repeat of the Windsor Park Plate (Gr 1, 1600m) quinella.

French import Vadavar (Redoute’s Choice) was a head away in third.

Sunline (Desert Sun) is the most decorated New Zealand thoroughbred since the introduction of the pattern system, winning 13 Group 1 races throughout her career, and it has been well-established that Melody Belle’s owners would love the opportunity to equal and potentially best the two-time Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) winner.

And while it would be fitting if the recently-named New Zealand Horse of the Year equalled the mark in a race named after another champion Kiwi mare in Empire Rose (Sir Tristram), Richards said that the amended program made it a tall ask. Instead, her attempt at equalling Sunline’s record is likely to come in a race like the Captain Cook Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) or the Zabeel Classic (Gr 1, 2000m).

“It’s just too quick a turnaround this year with all the changes due to Covid,” said Richards, referencing the fact that the Livamol Classic was run two weeks later than its usual first Saturday in October position. “We’ll get her home and have a look at her Monday morning, have a team talk and then make some plans. She’s done a wonderful job, she’s a champion mare.

“I’m over the moon. I think she was aided by a little bit of easing in the ground today, she just loves to get her toe into it, up in trip, 2000 metres is ideal for her now. She’s going very well, it’s a credit to the whole team. We’ve been under the pump at home with staff in Christchurch and in Sydney and it’s a credit to the staff who have been putting in long hours, as all stables do.”

Managing owner John Galvin of Fortuna Thoroughbreds said that part of the decision to bring Melody Belle home from Australia earlier in the spring was so that her large group of owners could enjoy the experience, given Covid-19 restricted travel.

“The crowds love Melody Belle so much and you know the story of why we bought her back from Australia, so we could have moments like this, on these occasions, so it is a little bit emotional, really,” he said.

“Back in the running, but just too good, just too good, what a mare, imperious, as I said, and words fail me. It was a fantastic moment and I’m so happy for Troy as well. He’s had 13 rides on Fortuna horses, won 10 of them and four of them have been Group 1s – amazing.

“And Jamie is an amazing trainer. It’s all been said before, but at such a young age he’s stepped up to the plate. He’s had really good mentors, has a great team of horses, of course, but he was buzzing during the week. Like me, he plays his cards close to his chest, but I could tell from his attitude and demeanour that it would be hard to beat her today.”

Runner-up Avantage has performed admirably all spring, but has finished in the placings in all three legs of the Hawke’s Bay Triple Crown. She is likely to go for a break before returning early next year.