One champion trainer denied another as Verry Elleegant repelled the Irish stayer Anthony Van Dyck to win the $5 million Caulfield Cup.
In a memorable Cup, Chris Waller continues to rewrite racing’s record books at an astonishing rate as he claimed the race for the first time.
And he did it at the expense of his northern hemisphere counterpart Aidan O’Brien.
Irishman O’Brien is without peer when it comes to results in Europe but his many forays into Australian racing at this time of the year have often come unstuck.
In Anthony Van Dyck, O’Brien was trying to add the Caulfield Cup to the Cox Plate trophy he won when Adelaide scored in 2014.
And as last year’s Epsom Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck provided an irresistible piece of form that was expected to take him a long way in the first leg of spring’s Cups double.
It almost did – but it was not to be as Verry Elleegant, the $5 favourite ridden by Mark Zahra, held off her Irish rival by a short neck to post the sixth Group One win of her career.
Anthony Van Dyck started second favourite at $6 while New Zealand-trained The Chosen ($61) was another three-quarters if a length away third.
Waller wasn’t at Caulfield, but not many were, as metropolitan racing in Melbourne remains a crowd-free zone because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, Waller watched from Randwick in Sydney where he had the disappointment of his top sprinter, Nature Strip, finishing unplaced in the $15 million Everest.
“It is different when you’re not there but it is a very special win with a very special horse,” he said.
“She is tough and I thought she was beat to tell you the truth at the 100-metre mark and she dug so deep.”
Verry Elleegant joins Jameka, Southern Speed and Ethereal in a select group of mares to win the Cup since the turn of the century.
And she did with a weight of 55kg that makes her the second-highest modern-day weight carrier of her sex.
Zahra had Verry Elleegant settled and relaxed in midfield position and her greatest attribute – an ability to quicken at the end of a journey – carried her to the front at the 200m.
But before she could be hailed the winner, Hugh Bowman brought Anthony Van Dyck with a perfectly timed run under his 58.5kg to throw out a serious challenge.
Zahra held his nerve in the finish as Verry Elleegant did the rest and the jockey returned to a reception far removed from the one usually given to Caulfield Cup winners.
“Unfortunately there is no crowd but to win a Cup is amazing,” Zahra said.
“She’s tough. That horse (Anthony Van Dyck) joined her and she pulled something out.”
Verry Elleegant is liable for a Melbourne Cup penalty as she strives to become the first horse since Ethereal in 2001 to complete the double.
Both the winner and runner-up remain on the third line of Melbourne Cup betting as $11 chances after firming from $17 with Anthony Van Dyck’s stablemate Tiger Moth the $6 favourite.