Dunkel to head to Pakenham Cup following Caulfield triumph

Dunkel winning at Caulfield
Dunkel proved too strong for his rivals on Saturday winning the Vale Verry Elleegant Handicap (2000m) at Caulfield. Photo: Bruno Cannatelli

The opening race at Caulfield on Saturday was named in honour of an iconic New Zealand-bred champion, and it was fitting that Dunkel won it with some of the stamina and toughness that top-flight Kiwi stayers are renowned for.

The $150,000 Vale Verry Elleegant (2000m) was given its name after Verry Elleegant sadly died due to foaling complications earlier in the week.

Dunkel’s one Group One victory in last year’s South Australian Derby (2500m) is no comparison with Verry Elleegant’s full-to-the-brim trophy cabinet, but the Dundeel gelding has nevertheless compiled an impressive record of his own and is still on an upward trajectory.

His achievements and his rating of 105 towered over his seven rivals in Saturday’s handicap field, and as a result he had to carry a hefty 61.5kg.

But after enjoying a comfortable run on the outside of the leader, jockey Billy Egan pushed the button in the straight and Dunkel took control. Mankayan made up late ground to eat into the margin, but Dunkel was still ahead by three-quarters of a length at the finish line.

“With a small field and landing outside the leader, it all worked out in his favour today,” Egan said. “I think he probably wasn’t as dominant as he was at Moonee Valley in his previous start (on December 30), but the long gap between runs will be the reason for that. After this run, I think he’ll be really peaking now.

“He’s certainly looking for more ground. He relaxed beautifully and was still very strong through the line. He’s just got a naturally good set of lungs on him.”

The Patrick Payne-trained Dunkel has now had 11 starts for eight wins, two seconds and A$852,625 in stakes.

“This has just been the best ride of all time for all of the family that we’ve got involved in this horse,” part-owner Brendan Danaher said.

“We’ll go to the Pakenham Cup (Listed, 2500m) next, and then the Roy Higgins (Listed, 2600m), which gets you into the Melbourne Cup (Group 1, 3200m). If we end up there, we won’t be able to control ourselves.”

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