By Ray Hickson
Like a fine wine it seems Verry Elleegant just gets better and better and premier jockey James McDonald hopes that trend continues as he eyes revenge on English raider Addeybb during The Star Championships.
With her 2021 debut looming in Saturday’s Group 2 $250,000 Yulong Apollo Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick, McDonald said the five-year-old mare couldn’t be in better fettle after a busy spring that saw her stretch to 3200m for the first time and J-Mac is looking for a positive start.
The rematch between Verry Elleegant and Addeybb in flagship race of the Star Championships, the $4m Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m), promises to be one of the races of the year.
“I think she has improved but to beat him she is going to have to be improved,’’ McDonald said.
“She is a much stronger and more mature mare and if she’s got stronger she might have got faster. Hopefully.
“She’s maturing all the time, I know it sounds silly when she’s five years old but it’s the best she’s ever looked condition wise.”
Verry Elleegant stretched her legs in an exhibition gallop between races at Randwick last Saturday with stablemate Toffee Tongue and McDonald was happy enough with the “routine” gallop.
She’s had a slightly different build up compared to the spring with two 900m trials as opposed to one 1000m hitout prior to her first-up win in the Group 1 Winx Stakes over the Randwick 1400m.
Given her status as one of Australia’s best racehorses and that first-up win in the spring the expectation levels are significant, she was $4.20 favourite with TAB on Wednesday, and McDonald is wary of that.
“The 1400m is always a bit sharp for her but she did a marvellous job last prep to win at the seven furlongs,’’ he said.
“She’s definitely not Winx but she’s very good in her own right.
“We’re coming up against some good quality horses, and with Kolding having one run under his belt and in form he’s going to be hard to beat.’’
There are eight individual Group 1 winners in the Apollo, a race McDonald won in 2015 on Contributer while Verry Ellegant's trainer Chris Waller has won the race five times including Winx's triple triumph.
While Verry Elleegant’s standing is unquestioned, McDonald is looking for Hungry Heart to live up to the raps that have been on the daughter of Frankel for some time.
The three-year-old filly recorded a string of close calls in the spring, with three successive seconds including the Group 1 Flight Stakes, so has something to prove first-up in the Group 2 $200,000 TAB Light Fingers Stakes (1200m).
McDonald said Hungry Heart, $3.80 with TAB, worked sharply on Tuesday and while she “needs to raise the bar a bit” he’s confident the filly has it in her after two very forward barrier trials in the past month.
“We’ve always had her in high regard and she needs to repay that, but I’m sure she will,’’ he said.
“Being a Frankel she is always going to improve as she gets older so hopefully we can now reap the rewards.
“She’s quiet a deceiving filly, she always gives the impression from a rider’s point of view that she will stay and stick on a bit but she might be a bit sharper than what we first thought.
Hungry Heart runs second in a trial at Rosehill on January 27
“So I expect her to be very hard to beat over six furlongs.”
Hungry Heart, who hasn’t raced since finishing seventh in the Thousand Guineas, did run a close second behind Dame Giselle first-up in the Furious Stakes (1200m) in the spring.
Meanwhile, McDonald is keen to partner promising youngster Stay Inside in the Silverdale Farm Pierro Plate (1100m) on Saturday after watching the colt’s impressive debut win three weeks ago and riding him in trackwork on Tuesday.
“He was unreal, he’s a super little horse and gives a really good feel,’’ he said.
“He has a lovely attitude for a colt, just goes about his business and is a pretty uncomplicated little fellow, and I think he’s a good horse.”