Vale Verry Elleegant

The Australasian racing industry are in mourning following the news of the passing of 11-time Group One winner Verry Elleegant when foaling in Ireland.

By Grangewilliam Stud stallion Zed, Verry Elleegant was bred by Don Goodwin out of his Danroad mare Opulence, who he purchased as a broodmare prospect for $14,000 off South Auckland horseman Nicholas Bishara at Karaka. It came full circle for Bishara, and he was pleased to take on her progeny, including Verry Elleegant, to educate and subsequently train.

Verry Elleegant showed immense talent from day one and won two of her three starts for Bishara before she was partly sold, with the ownership group expanding to include John, Mark and Rachael Carter and a group of their Auckland friends, along with a number of Australians, including Aziz “Ozzie” Kheir and Brae Sokolski.

She was subsequently transferred to leading Victorian trainer Darren Weir, for whom she had four starts, including victory in the Gr.3 Ethereal Stakes (2000m) and placed in the Gr.2 Edward Manifold Stakes (1600m), before she joined leading Sydney trainer Chris Waller’s barn following Weir’s disqualification.

Verry Elleegant was a very raw individual with her eccentric and ungainly galloping style, but under Waller she matured into a world-class racehorse and won a further 13 races, 11 of those at elite-level, highlighted by her popular victory in the 2021 edition of the Gr.1 Melbourne Cup (3200m).

Conquering Europe was on the minds of a few of her owners and the decision was made to head to France with the mare, who had an unsuccessful four-start campaign for trainer Francis-Henri Graffard before she was retired from racing and was subsequently served by Sea The Stars.

Her performances on the track earned her a string of accolades, including Australian Horse of the Year (2020-21), Champion Australian Stayer (2020-21 and 2021-22), Champion Australian Middle-Distance Horse in (2020-21), and Joint Head of 2021 WBR Rankings (Ext.).

Her feats on the track were life-changing for a number of people, including her former trainer and part-owner Nicholas Bishara, who was left in disbelief at hearing the news of her passing on Monday.

“I am truly in shock,” he said. “We were all looking forward to seeing her leave horses like herself and have a well-deserved retirement in the best of hands.

“She was a life-changing horse for a lot of us. I just feel for all the connections and everybody who had anything to do with her.”

Looking back on his time with Verry Elleegant, Bishara said she was an exciting prospect from the start, and he was left in awe following her maiden win at Ruakaka as a three-year-old in August 2018.

“Her start at Ruakaka had to be seen to be believed,” he said. “She got back, was off the pace a long way and racing ungenerously like she does. She was a very quirky young horse. We knew she had a massive motor, and it was done on raw ability.

“She only had three starts for me for a two-year-old second and then two wins before going offshore.”

Bishara’s role then changed to that of a part-owner, and he said she took him on a whirlwind ride and gave him some of his best moments in racing.

“The bittersweet one was winning the Melbourne Cup because due to COVID we couldn’t be there. That is everyone’s dream to win a Melbourne Cup, and she just put them to bed in that race,” he said.

“Beating the English Derby winner (Anthony Van Dyck) in the Caulfield Cup (Gr.1, 2400m) was another massive highlight, as well as winning the AJC Oaks (Gr.1, 2400m). We were on hand for that and we were able to lead her back into the birdcage. Those memories are pretty special.”

Bishara and breeder Don Goodwin have a couple of her siblings to look forward to racing in the coming years, but for now they are just in disbelief.

“We are fortunate enough to have her half-sister at home and we have got a three-quarter sister to her at Chris Waller’s, who is two,” Bishara said. “We have got a little bit of the legacy to go on and we would love them to put their hand up and do her proud, but it is really upsetting.”

In all, Verry Elleegant won 16 and placed in 12 of her 40 career starts, including 11 victories at Group One level ranging in distances from 1400m to 3200m, and has truly earned her spot as one of the legends of the Australian turf.

– NZ Racing Desk

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