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An Elleegant retirement

20 October 2022 Written by Michael Sharkie

A tremendous racing career has come to an end for fan favourite Verry Elleegant. She leave a legacy as a Lexus Melbourne Cup champion.

When the ownership group of reigning Melbourne Cup heroine Verry Elleegant announced that the star mare would end her career overseas, they knew they were taking the great horse, her fans and indeed themselves into the unknown.

Here was an 11-time Group 1 winner with more than $14 million in the bank, Australia’s premier stayer with the winner of a Caulfield Cup, a Tancred Stakes and an explosive Lexus Melbourne Cup romp already to her name; a comfortable farewell tour of her local haunts seemed the most probable sign off for this modern day great.

“We wanted to give her the chance at one last great challenge and the feeling was she had done all she could do in Australia. Europe was the last frontier.” - Brae Sokolski

Driven to showcase their mare against the best in Europe, a challenge that the mighty Winx was never asked to take, and a chance to contest races that most racehorse owners could only ever dream of, the owners took the plunge. Regular spokesman Brae Sokolski said it was not an emotional decision.

“On one hand you’ve got your own dreams of running in an Arc and these amazing races in Europe, on the other you have her incredible legacy and Verry Elleegant’s relationship with Chris Waller and the need to honour that,” he said.

“We wanted to give her the chance at one last great challenge and the feeling was she had done all she could do in Australia. Europe was the last frontier.”

Emerging trainer Francis-Henri Graffard was selected as the new trainer for Verry Elleegant, and while Waller was saddened to see the great mare leave his care, he showed his class and humility when acting as a sounding board for Graffard as he readied Verry Elleegant for her French campaign.

Australians as a rule rally behind their own when they set out to take on the world; Australian racehorses are not spared that support and parochialism. The triumphs of Australian speedsters at the famed Royal Ascot meeting have been celebrated wildly and proudly over the years, perhaps none more so than Waller’s own chestnut speedball Nature Strip when he ripped apart Europe’s fastest horses in the King’s Stand Stakes in June this year.

Indeed there would be no easy races for Verry Elleegant in Europe, the mare was about to swim with the truly big fish of European middle-distance racing, the same pool of horses that have consistently shown their superiority when visiting Australia.

In a statement, the owners of Verry Elleegant announced that she will retire to stud to commence the next phase of her career as a broodmare. Full of praise for the mares' achievements, they acknowledged her lasting legacy won't be measured by her prizemoney or her Group 1 tally, but more so by the joy and happiness she bought her legion of fans, and her indomitable will to win that inspired us all.

They thank the many individuals that played a massive role in her success, but particularly Chris Waller and his entire team, including track rider Chris Harwood, strapper Rocky Mangat, jockey James McDonald and her French-trainer Francis Graffard and his stable, for all their efforts in her European campaign.

The plan is to keep her in the pristine fields of France until she can be served by a leading European stallion in the Northern Hemisphere breeding season early next year.

(Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

A Verry excellent career

Verry Elleegant was raised and originally raced and trained in New Zealand, bred by Don Goodwin and put through her early paces by Nick Bishara before coming to Australia as a three-year-old spring filly with the VRC Oaks as her original big target.

Back then she was trained by Darren Weir, before she was transferred to the Sydney stables of another Kiwi, Chris Waller, where she would eventually develop such an ironclad partnership with another New Zealander in champion jockey James McDonald.

With top-level triumphs from 1400 metres (Winx Stakes) to 3200 metres (Lexus Melbourne Cup), with victories at every trip along the way (1600 metres in the Chipping Norton and George Main Stakes, 2000 metres in the Turnbull, Ranvet and Vinery Stud Stakes and 2400 metres in the Australian Oaks, Caulfield Cup and Tancred Stakes) she proved herself almost without equal as far as versatility is concerned.

Not even the wonder mares Winx and Black Caviar displayed such top-level ability over such a spread of distances.

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