Top 10 performances of the 2020/21 racing season

Zaaki is favourite heading into the Q22

As August 1 and the end of the 2020/21 Australian racing season draws closer, HorseBetting looks back on the top 10 performances from the past 12 months. We will feature a number of horses who are likely to make their presence felt in some Group 1 races in the upcoming Spring Carnival, while we will also reflect on some runners who we won’t see at the races again.

10. Arcadia Queen – Caulfield Stakes (Oct 10, 2020)

The market had it down as a race in two, and that it was, with heavyweights Russian Camelot and Arcadia Queen battling out over 2000m in the Caulfield Stakes. While it was not the result many punters wanted to see with the $1.45 favourite going under, it was the win that the racing fraternity needed as William Pike saluted on the star mare for the first time in over two years. Settling out the back and following the Russian everywhere he went, Arcadia Queen served it up to the boom horse before racing away to win by 1.25 lengths, with another gap of 2.5 lengths back to third. She went on to win the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes two starts later before having one more run in the autumn when second to Probabeel.

9. Verry Elleegant – Winx Stakes (Aug 22, 2020)

It was only fitting that the best horse in the country won the first Group 1 of the season in a race named after one of the greatest horses we have ever seen, and Verry Elleegant did exactly that. After being posted four and five wide without cover for much of the race, James McDonald continued to slide around the field and improve her position before being headed by her stablemate Star Of The Seas in the straight. In true Verry Elleegant fashion, she knew where the winning post was and continued to fight all the way until the final stage to get up on the line. She would go on to win another four Group 1 races in the 2020/21 season, so she is sure to figure again here.

8. Realm Of Flowers – Andrew Ramsden Stakes (May 15, 2021)

The Listed Andrew Ramsden Stakes offered a golden ticket into the 2021 Melbourne Cup, and local stayer Realm Of Flowers could not have been more impressive in winning the 2800m event at Flemington. Settling towards the rear of the field, the Anthony & Sam Freedman-trained mare looped her rivals as they cornered for home and put them away comfortably, winning by 4.75 lengths in a canter. That form has since been franked with Grand Promenade going on to win his next two starts by a country mile as well. She is now the second-favourite in the race that stops a nation and a definite chance should she stay healthy.

7. Vega One – Kingsford Smith Cup (May 29, 2021)

The Brisbane Winter Carnival had a touch of serious class about it this year, and one win that had to be seen to be believed was Vega One’s blitz in the Group 1 Kingsford Smith Cup at Eagle Farm. The Tony Gollan-trained gelding was not called once in the straight and had a wall of horses in front of him at the furlong pole, but the magnificent Jamie Kah was able to find a passage very late before Vega One dropped on them, displaying a devastating turn of foot to get up in the shadows of the post. He went on to finish second in the Stradbroke Handicap behind Tofane, who won two Group 1 races over the Winter Carnival.

6. Bivouac – VRC Sprint Classic (Nov 7, 2020)

The now-retired Bivouac set the Flemington straight alight in the VRC Sprint Classic at the end of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, defeating Nature Strip and Libertini – two serious sprinters – by 3.25 lengths. The Godolphin star was partnered by Glen Boss in the 1200m feature and never once looked like losing. The win here capped off a solid Spring Carnival for Bivouac, who had finished second in The Everest just three weeks earlier.

5. Anamoe – ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes (Apr 10, 2021)

We had been waiting all autumn for a star two-year-old, and while Artorius was brilliant in the Blue Diamond and Stay Inside was dominant in the Golden Slipper, James Cummings’ Anamoe was close on their heels before stamping himself as a serious colt in the ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes over 1400m. James McDonald had the race favourite in a gun spot throughout the run and allowed him to quicken slickly to bolt in. Anamoe was eased right down in the final 50m and still posted a 2.8-length victory over Hilal and Captivant – the two horses that would go on to quinella the Group 1 Champagne Stakes a fortnight late. Anamoe is a $4.50 favourite in the Golden Rose, and a deserving one at that. He’s a star.

4. Masked Crusader – William Reid Stakes (Mar 9, 2021)

The Hawkes-trained Masked Crusader really stamped himself as a serious sprinter when he won the William Reid Stakes at The Valley back in March, despite blowing the start. Ridden perfectly by William Pike, he saved ground along the inside and continued to improve his position throughout. While everything swung wide, Pike bided his time on the rails and allowed the gelding to sprint quickly to win by 2.5 lengths. The win secured Masked Crusader a slot in The Everest 2021, where he will look to turn the tables on Nature Strip following a two-length defeat to the Chris Waller star in the TJ Smith Stakes in April.

3. Classique Legend – The Everest (Oct 17, 2020)

The richest turf race on the planet did not disappoint in 2020, with the new ‘grey flash’, Classique Legend, dominating his rivals in the $14m sprint. Assisted by a hot tempo set by Eduardo, Nature Strip and Haut Brion Her, Kerrin McEvoy settled towards the rear on Les Bridge’s grey gelding before producing him in the straight in a thrilling finish. Spotting the lead trio a fair start in the straight, Classique Legend really knuckled down to the task to run them down and kick clear, winning the feature sprint by 2.5 lengths over Bivouac and Gytrash. The win gave McEvoy his third Everest victory in just the fourth edition of the race.

2. Verry Elleegant – Caulfield Cup (Oct 17, 2020)

If she hadn’t already done so, the star of the Australian turf really etched her name into the Hall of Fame in October when winning the Caulfield Cup over the Irish Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck. While the 0.2-length margin was not as impressive as some of the other wins on this list, the field she beat and the way she did it puts her victory right up there. In typical fashion, the mare had to settle wide throughout, albeit with cover, and really had to fight over the concluding stages to set up a grandstand finish to the 2400m event. She finished seventh in the Melbourne Cup two weeks later before returning in the autumn to win back-to-back Group 1 races.

1. Zaaki – Doomben Cup (May 22, 2021)

Maybe there is some recency bias, some Queensland bias, some bias due to the fact we were on course, or a mixture of all three, but our top performance of the 2020/21 racing season had to be Zaaki’s win in the Group 1 Doomben Cup. The European import had only had three starts in Australia prior to his win at Doomben, but boy, did he acclimatise quickly. James McDonald sat outside the leader throughout in a race that looked to suit a backmarker, but the result was decided a long way from home with everything chasing Zaaki before the turn. The seven-length romp gave Annabel Neasham her second Group 1 victory and earned her runner outright favouritism in the Cox Plate. Zaaki then went on to win the inaugural running of The Q22 by 1.5 lengths at Eagle Farm three weeks later in bullish style.

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