With only a week to go until the 2021 edition of the Lexus Melbourne Cup, we stole a few minutes from Tim Barry, one of the owners of Cup hopeful Verry Elleegant, to learn a little more about this verry talented lady.
Verry Elleegant is on target to line up at Flemington next Tuesday 2 November and try her luck in 'the race that stops a nation'.
Now, there is no shortage of articles written about the racing success of Verry Elleegant - with nine Group 1 races to her name, she's a bit of a media darling.
However, we wanted to get an insight into her personality, her early years in New Zealand, and exactly what drew Tim to her all those years ago.
Keep reading to find out a bit more about this special mare...
What is Verry Elleegant’s stable name?
Where did her name come from, with its unconventional spelling?
Don Goodwin, her breeder, named her. It was a combination of a granddaughter’s name, an Elleegant car he owned and the Verry came courtesy of Verry Flash - her brother racing in New Zealand.
How did you come to be involved with Verry Elleegant?
I played rugby with fellow owner, John Carter of Jomara Bloodstock, and am a friend of his family. We always talked about owning a horse together and Ellee just happened to be that horse.
It’s a fairly diverse group of owners, were you all friends or acquaintances prior to owning her?
No we didn’t all know each other. However, some wonderful friendships have been formed in New Zealand and Aussie through this association.
John & Mark Carter, Kevin Stocker, Brae Skoloski and myself are very close and constantly in communication. We are also partners in other horses now.
The ANZAC spirit is alive and well!
She’s by the kiwi stallion, Zed, who wasn’t really in vogue at the time you purchased her (his stud fee at the time was a mere $500), plus she is out of a mare originally bought for $5,000. What drew you to her as a racehorse prospect?
I was taken with her when she delivered an amazing turn of foot to win at Ruakaka and then in Matamata.
Following that I went to see her at Nick Bishara’s stable and although she was athletic looking with height and scope - a staying type obviously - she was rather skinny front on.
That being said - there was something about her so I bought in.
My racing confidants Russell Warwick (Westbury Stud) and Paul Willetts (Bloodstock Agent) were also supportive of my purchase.
She has a very distinctive way of galloping (some have described it as awkward!). Was there ever a moment in her early career where you wondered what you’d bought into?
Never - she didn’t always perform to our expectation and she was a handful, but she was her own worst enemy and we knew when she finally put it all together she would achieve so much.
Can you pinpoint a moment in her early career when you realised you might have something quite special?
Yes - when Ellee flew home for third in the G2 Manifold at Flemington in 2018 and then followed that up with a win in the Ethereal Stakes.
Have you had a chance to spend much time with her? What is she like as a horse? She looks to be a tough, gritty mare, but sometimes they are the sweetest ones. What attributes do you think push her ahead of the pack?
I love to be around my horses at the racing stables but distance and now COVID-19 isn’t allowing too much of that.
I will say that Ellee definitely has a presence about her when you are up close and personal.
How hard was the decision to transfer her to Australia (by way of Darren Weir and more recently to Chris Waller)? Obviously it’s an amazing opportunity but it does mean you’re less likely to be able to go and see her race (even more so in recent times due to COVID-19)?
It was an easy decision to send her to Australia and race her against their best. Her nine Australian G1s to date and her Australian Horse of the Year title have proven her to be up there with those of champion status.
In my opinion, you just cannot compare racing a horse in New Zealand to Australia (Auckland Thoroughbred Racing aside, as they are ahead of New Zealand racing at every level) - it’s really something.
Chris really amplified her Australian form with her 5YO season in particular being somewhat remarkable. Was there anything you observed that he did differently or changed – big or small? Or, do you think she was just a later type?
She was a very immature from day one - she really only strengthened up and put on weight from last year.
Prior to that she was doing it all with simply a will to win and huge heart.
She’s got nothing left to prove as a racehorse with the 9 G1s to her name BUT we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t wish for just one more! What race would you really like to see her knock off?
The Cox Plate is right up there - and we were proud of her effort on Saturday to place. A bit of luck in the running and we may just have got there.
But having run the sweepstake from an early age at school for the Melbourne Cup and watching every race throughout my childhood, the Melbourne Cup is very close to my heart.
To have a runner in it is a dream come true in itself.
If you could single out one moment as the greatest from her career so far – which race or accolade would it be and why?
I celebrated Ellee’s Australian Oaks G1 victory with my wife, Annie, at Randwick - it was the day Winx won her last G1 the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and said her goodbyes to the crowd. Personally it was an unforgettable experience that we will cherish forever. The other stand out was her biggest win to date in last year’s Caulfield Cup when she fought like a tiger to beat Epsom Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck.
Sadly we were locked out of Victoria so couldn’t be trackside but made up for it at home with more than a few champagnes.
Do you (or the wider ownership group) have any rituals or superstitions before a big race?
On tour we certainly do - we start each day with an early Champagne breakfast. It is fair to say some of the owners need some serious looking after by evening.
Wearing a tie with her red & blue colours has become mandatory too.
One of the great advantages of having a mare is that she can go on to the breeding paddock. If you could pick any stallion to pair her with, who would it be?
It's hard to go past the two Australian stallion sensations, Snitzel or Fastnet Rock.
If the opportunity arose, would you buy in to her progeny or do you think she’s one in a million?
I would buy her progeny in a heartbeat - being able to afford them might be a different story!
If you did manage to secure one of her offspring – what would you call it?
Not sure but he or she would definitely have a name that included rather strange spelling.
And finally, if you could liken her to any person or character, who would it be?
I can’t - she is one of a kind - no one comes close in my opinion.
I am just very fortunate to have been part of her amazing story.
Verry Elleegant (NZ)
6YO brown mare
By Zed out of Opulence (ex Danroad)
Bred by JD Goodwin
Owned by Jomara Bloodstock Ltd (Mgr: M Carter), Ellee (Mgr: J Goodwin), Balmerino Racing Partnership (Mgr: J Rosham), M Wanzare, T Barry, B Sokolski, A Kheir, K Stocker, Honeycomb Stud (Mgr: A Whittingham), J O'Neill & V Kheir
Trained by Chris Waller
Our thanks to Tim for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish Verry Elleegant and her connections all the best for the Lexus Melbourne Cup - we'll be cheering her on!
Unless otherwise noted, photos supplied by Tim Barry
While we're no longer racing on 2 November here at Ellerslie, we've still got a lot of great Melbourne Cup content to come as Australasia leads up to the "great race".
Keep checking back here for more!