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Dream Melbourne Cup success for McDonald and Verry Elleegant

Jockey James McDonald realised his Lexus Melbourne Cup dream as Verry Elleegant sprinted away from the field to claim the Flemington showpiece.

The Chris Waller-trained mare added a 10th Group One win to her record as she saw off hot favourite Incentivise by four lengths in the two-mile feature on Tuesday – a victory McDonald believes cements Verry Elleegant’s top rank status.

The rider was originally booked to ride British-trained runner Away He Goes before an injury ruled him out last week and McDonald described his win as a “fairytale”.

He told www.racing.com: “It means everything. It’s the one race I’ve dreamed of riding in and of winning.

“That’s how you want to win a Melbourne Cup.

“I couldn’t believe the position I got first time out of the straight, she was so relaxed and she never touched the bridle until I gave her a kick at the 600-metre mark and she sucked up.

“I could see the favourite (Incentivise) getting shoved along but I had seen that in the Caulfield Cup as well. When I went past him, I just wanted that post to come up.

“To pilot horses like Verry Elleegant each and every carnival is just a huge privilege and it worked out really well for us.”

Verry Elleegant has enjoyed some notable battles with William Haggas’ Addeybb over the last couple of years, with her Group One tally encompassing distances from seven furlongs to this two miles.

McDonald was happy to settle his mount in mid-division through the early stages as Incentivise raced in second through the majority of the race, but Verry Elleegant was clearly travelling well as the field turned for home.

Andrew Balding’s British raider Spanish Mission was perfectly placed to make his run down the middle of the track as Incentivise went for home, but Verry Elleegant was sat on his shoulder and when McDonald gave the signal, the response was immediate.

Verry Elleegant pulled clear in the final furlong, with Spanish Mission staying on all the way for Craig Williams but just failing to catch Incentivise for second by half a length. The ex-Richard Hannon inmate Floating Artist was fourth while Joseph O’Brien’s defending champion Twilight Payment finished 11th.

Waller watched the race with his family at home in Sydney and admitted it was a special moment to land his first Melbourne Cup.

“When she crossed the line, I was very emotional,” Waller said.

“I really wanted to be there to share it with the staff and those who have worked so hard, but to watch it with my family made it very, very special.”

Waller famously handled 25-times Group One winner and four-times Cox Plate champion Winx and he added: “It makes it pretty special to have another mare like this one. So brave, so determined and so good.

“We’ve had some great wins and important wins and this is certainly one of them.

“It’s the Melbourne Cup, so it’s very special and just the way she won it. She dropped on them and showed her class.

“She was the class of the race and she showed that with that finish that I’ll never forget.”

Spanish Mission ran a fine race in third
Spanish Mission ran a fine race in third (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Jockey Craig Williams admitted Spanish Mission had been no match for the winner, but was delighted with his placed run.

He said: “Couldn’t have been any more impressed with his gallant performance. I had the option of being one horse in for the entire race but I decided to be on the back of Grand Promenade, I thought it would take me nicely into the race and we did. But when Verry Elleegant came around me, she was towing.

“My horse did a really good job and was fighting it out for second. Great job by Andrew Balding and his team for the planning and what a gallant warrior to go to battle with.”

Incentivise was sent off the shortest-priced favourite since Phar Lap in 1930 and his rider Brett Prebble said: “Courageous effort. His first time to this trip and it took a champion to beat him.”

Twilight Payment was a touch slow to break and jockey Jye McNeil said: “He wasn’t able to get into his usual role and at the halfway point he really struggled.”

Verry Elleegant claims Melbourne Cup glory

Verry Elleegant proved too strong for hot favourite Incentivise as she landed the Lexus Melbourne Cup in the hands of jockey James McDonald.

Trained by Chris Waller, the six-year-old mare improved on last year’s seventh place to come home a cosy winner in the two-mile contest.

Andrew Balding’s British runner Spanish Mission ran an admirable race to finish third in the Flemington feature.

The pre-race attention was focused on Incentivise, the Caulfield Cup winner who was unbeaten in his last nine races, and he was prominent from an early stage, racing wide from the start before moving up to sit in second after passing the post first time.

Persan set a reasonable gallop up front, with McDonald happy to settle in mid division through the first part of the race before taking up a position to challenge turning for home.

Spanish Mission was perfectly placed to make his run down the middle of the track as Incentivise went for home, but Verry Elleegant was sat on his shoulder and when McDonald gave the signal, the response was immediate.

Verry Elleegant fairly sprinted away in the final furlong to come home clear, with Spanish Mission staying on all the way for Craig Williams but just failing to catch Incentivise for second.

The winner was claiming a 10th Group One victory, with Waller and McDonald winning the Melbourne Cup for the first time.

Last year’s winner Twilight Payment failed to figure for trainer Joseph O’Brien.

McDonald was originally booked to ride Away He Goes for Ismail Mohammed, but after the British-trained runner suffered a setback last week, the rider switched to Verry Elleegant and he was thrilled to claim the Spring Carnival highlight.

“To pilot horses like Verry Elleegant each and every carnival is a huge privilege,” McDonald told www.racing.com.

“Today we are lucky enough to win a Melbourne Cup.

“I was booked for Away He Goes and sadly he went amiss. When one door closes another one opens.”

Waller was not on course as he remained in Sydney, but his representative Jo Taylor expressed the team’s delight at Verry Elleegant’s four-length verdict.

She said: “This is unreal, I think this is what everyone in Australian racing dreams of. It’s just such a pity Chris can’t be here, he certainly deserves this more than anyone.

“The entire team is very emotional and it means the world to us.”

Spanish Mission ran a fine race in third
Spanish Mission ran a fine race in third (Alan Crowhurs/PA)

Tony Noonan has been overseeing Spanish Mission’s preparations in Australia on Balding’s behalf and he reported the handler to be thrilled with the run, beaten just half a length by Incentivise.

He said: “Straight after the horse went over the line, I rang him (Balding) and he was ecstatic. It’s an enormous training performance – this horse hasn’t run for months.

“He sent him over a really fit horse and it’s just fantastic.

“He looks like he could go around again. He’s got an amazing aerobic capacity. His recovery from his work since he’s been here is just awesome. He’s a proper horse.”

Incentivise was sent off the shortest-priced favourite since Phar Lap in 1930 and while he ultimately fell short, trainer Peter Moody’s assistant Catherine Coleman was more than satisfied with his first try at two miles.

“He was absolutely super and we couldn’t be prouder of him. His first go at that trip carrying that weight, he has been absolutely phenomenal today,” Coleman said.

“Brett (Prebble) rode him to perfection today, he’s just run into an absolute champion in Verry Elleegant. She’s just a phenomenon this mare, and Chris has done such a wonderful job. We just take our hat off to her.”

Monday Musings: Haggas a Dab Hand with Addeybb

On February 6th 1954, two years to the day after her accession to the throne, Her Majesty the Queen, on a Royal visit to Australia, was present at Randwick racecourse, Sydney, to witness the first running of the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, writes Tony Stafford.

Inaugurated by the Australian Jockey Club in 1851 in honour of Queen Victoria, it was staged as the Queens Plate throughout her reign. Later it became the AJC Plate with single-year editions in 1928 and 1934 as the King’s Plate, honouring the present Queen’s grand-father, King George V.

Early on the morning of the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years, Englishmen William Haggas (trainer) and Ton Marquand (jockey) fittingly won the 4millionAust$ 2021 Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes with the seven-year-old gelding Addeybb in the colours of Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, youngest and least publicised of the four Maktoum brothers who so transformed UK and world racing.

Like the Queen, Sheikh Ahmed has had a recent family death to endure after Sheikh Hamdan, second in terms of age of the quartet and mastermind of Shadwell Farm, passed away last month in the week leading up to the Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan.

So, 67 years after that initial running, the QE Stakes is still going strong. In its pre-QE history it was won by many of Australia’s best horses, none more so than the legendary Phar Lap, winner of the Plate in 1930.

That was in the midst of a late-flowering career that brought a sequence of wins (career total 37/51) after a halting start. Sent to race in the US, he started with a track record before dying in agony after what was subsequently identified as a massive dose of arsenic. It is believed that his murder was at the behest of criminal elements worried that Phar Lap would be a threat to the profitability of the Mafia’s illegal bookmakers.

Tulloch, another Australian great, won 36, finished second in 12 and third in four of his 53 starts, with only one unplaced. This despite his being off the track injured for a full two years after his three-year-old campaign. He won the Randwick race in 1958, 1960 and 1961.

Tulloch was the only triple winner since 1954 until along came Winx. The great mare had won her first three races, then went the next seven with only a single victory before embarking on a 33-race unbeaten spree until the end of her career.

Three consecutive Queen Elizabeth Stakes fell to her spell, the last at 10-1 on as a seven-year-old in 2019 after which she retired having won 37 of 43 starts and, helped by the massive prize of the Sydney race, with world-record earnings and Group 1 wins.

Winx’s retirement left a vacancy in 2020 and William Haggas, who sent down the then six-year-old Addeybb, previously best known as a mudlark, was aiming to fill the void.  Addeybb, another late bloomer, first hit the headlines when winning the Lincoln on his four-year-old reappearance and had won six races and finished second to Magical in the 2019 Champion Stakes before that first Australian jaunt.

On March 21 last year, five days after the first lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson, Tom Marquand was in Sydney to ride Addeybb in the Ranvet Stakes and in the first of four memorable clashes with the two-years-younger Verry Elleegant <what an inelegant name!> beat her by half a length.

Five weeks later – Marquand having been marooned away from partner Hollie Doyle by Covid19 restrictions – he enjoyed a more emphatic defeat of the filly in the QE II.

The relative exploits of the two developing stars between that day and last month again in the Ranvet Stakes where they renewed their rivalry, was stark, largely governed by the need for Haggas to take account of his horse’s tough time away from home base.

He fashioned a minutely-planned three-race home campaign, returning to finish an excellent runner-up to Lord North in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. He then duly collected the Listed Land Of Burns Stakes at Ayr before winning another big pot, the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot, where he avenged defeats by both Magical and Lord North. A 9-1 shot, he also numbered the Gosdens’ future Middle East money-spinner Mishriff among his victims.

Meanwhile, Verry Elleegant was making hay at home.  After a break she won over a mile in August; was fourth in September and was victorious twice in October over a mile then a mile and a half before stretching out with a creditable seventh in the two-mile Melbourne Cup. Freshened up, the mare was third and then won, both races in February, before lining up for the Ranvet last month.

Fully conditioned, she got the better of a possibly ring-rusty Addeybb, but memorably on Saturday, the Haggas horse gained fulsome revenge. As a gelding and given the trainer’s skill with older horses, he could easily return next year aiming to match the three-time exploits of Tulloch and Winx.

I’ve been remiss in not yet collecting my always-valued copy of Horses In Training as I’ve been nowhere for more than a year and the usual sources either at Cheltenham or from Tindalls In Newmarket High Street have been unavailable.

I do see this morning that I can get it from Amazon at a discounted price of 20 quid so when I finish these words I’ll get a move on. It will be interesting to see the status of the Haggas string which numbered 199 last year. One definite change will be among the stable’s trio of assistant trainers as Harry Eustace is now training in his own right.

He has succeeded his father James, who ended a 30-year stint at the end of last season and his son is sure to have learnt plenty. I believe he (and possibly brother David) spent time in Australia learning his trade as did George Boughey who has been pulling up trees in his early training career.

I know they were house-mates in that hothouse of thrusting young training talent a few years back with George Scott, who was a little in front of his colleagues in his career. Others there included Ed Crisford, who now shares the billing with father Simon and James Ferguson, son of John, former colleague of Simon Crisford for many years in running Sheikh Mohammed’s racing affairs in the UK and Dubai in the winter.

It’s become fashionable for trainers to hand over either joint-, as in the case of John and Thady Gosden, or outright, like Eustace and also the Bethells up in Middleham. Listed as assistant trainer in last year’s HIT, Edward Bethell has taken over seamlessly from father James at the palatial Thorngill Stables just outside Middleham and threatens to take the family fortunes by storm.

He’s already up to the six-winner mark from only 28 runners and the recent victories of Briardale (twice), Grantley and Blu Boy, his by miles and a in a canter, threaten an explosion. There were 30 horses in last year’s Bethell team. I can imagine a flood of new owners wishing to take part in what looks sure to be an exciting project and sending horses to him.

Yesterday, two meetings delayed from Saturday to free up mid-afternoon for The Duke’s funeral made for exciting viewing and Al Aasy promises to be another potential Group 1 horse for the Haggas stable and in the colours of Shadwell Farm. Not a home-bred, Al Aasy easily won the Dubai Duty Free Stakes (the John Porter to you and me)  and will be following in Addeybb’s footsteps no doubt as the season progresses.

Ayr’s Scottish Grand National meeting was one of the last jumping highlights in the UK before the domestic season ends next Saturday at Sandown. Harry Skelton’s inexorable pursuit then rapid-fire passing and drawing clear of Brian Hughes has all but clinched his first title and you have to think that with brother Dan’s fire-power and a greater readiness to take nice outside rides, he could be in for a longish spell in the number one spot. Congratulations to jockey, trainer and of course father Nick whose determination to support his sons was only exceeded by the far-sighted planning to set up their operation.

I would also like to congratulate Ian Williams for a superb training achievement in sending out One More Fleurie to win the highly-competitive novice handicap chase over three miles at Ayr.

Setting off in front, the gelding jumped every one of the 19 fences like an assured veteran, easily kept ahead of his 12 rivals throughout and stretched away for a six-and-a-half-length success with Charlie Todd not having to do much more than steer.

The exhibition was one almost of an automaton so perfect were the parabolas he executed at every fence. He didn’t gain his first career win, off a mark of 105 on his third chasing start, until seven weeks ago. He won twice more, with only a concentration lapse in between at Fakenham spoiling the sequence. This was his fourth success, now off 23lb higher than the initial winning mark.

It is easy to imagine him one day coming back to Ayr for a Scottish Grand National, or with his mix of stamina – he was going away from talented rivals rather than coming back yesterday – and jumping prowess, later on winning a Grand National.

Ian Williams is one of the truly versatile trainers who can win with any type of horse, but One More Fleurie could put him and his young rider deservedly onto a different level.  I reckon he’ll be elevated to somewhere near 138 – those iniquitous handicappers are never very lenient with Ian’s winners – so that means he will probably get in the Ladbroke Handicap Chase <Hennessy> next November. Cloth Cap won it this season off 136, so go on Ian - fill your boots!

Addeybb in top shape for Elleegant rematch – now just rain needed

William Haggas believes Addeybb will prove a tougher nut for Verry Elleegant to crack in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick on Saturday – as long as the ground is soft enough.

The Champion Stakes winner finished second to Australia’s best horse three weeks ago in the Ranvet Stakes, a race he had won 12 months earlier.

Addeybb also won the Queen Elizabeth last year, but after a late scare with a foot problem last month, Haggas expects some improvement – with a switch in headgear another reason to expect a bold showing.

“They are really happy with him, but we could do with some rain. I’ve seen differing forecasts,” said Haggas.

“I think there’s improvement in him, I just don’t think he went through his last race with any gusto whereas normally he’s a very strong traveller.

“He still fought in the straight, but it took him an age to get by the leader where usually he zips by and says to the others ‘come and get me’.

“Tom (Marquand) said he was rusty and I thought the foot affected him. He very nearly didn’t run, but it he was improving all the time so he did run.

“We’re putting a pair of half-blinkers on him which I’ve been wanting to do for a bit. He’s had cheekpieces on a while now.

“Tom rode him the other day in blinkers and said he felt much sharper, but I said he would do because his feet are fine and he’s had a race so he will be sharper.

“I did say to him though, it was his call, I’m 12,000 miles away and if you want to put them on then do so. We do need rain, though, because he’s not as good on good to firm.”