Zahra to ride Verry Elleegant during Melbourne Spring Carnival

Verry Elleegant
Mark Zahra returns to the mounting yard aboard Verry Elleegant after winning the Caulfield Cup. (Racing Photos)

Last year’s Caulfield Cup winner, Verry Elleegant, will be reunited with Mark Zahra when she heads to Melbourne later on this Spring Carnival.

While her regular Sydney rider, James McDonald, will partner her in Saturday’s Winx Stakes, current travel restrictions look unlikely to allow McDonald to head to Melbourne this Spring Carnival, which will see Zahra retain the ride on the star mare when she arrives in Victoria.

Zahra reaped the benefits of a similar situation 12 months ago, winning back-to-back Group 1 races aboard Verry Elleegant in the Turnbull Stakes and Caulfield Cup.

“It’s been a difficult decision and the ownership group, we believe in a democratic method of coming to decisions, and it’s been decided that Mark Zahra will retain the ride for the entirety of the Spring Carnival in Melbourne,” part-owner Brae Sokolski told SEN Track’s ‘Bensley’ on Tuesday morning.

“Mark rode her absolutely brilliantly last preparation and particularly obviously in the Caulfield Cup; didn’t have a hell of a lot of luck in the Melbourne Cup, hers was arguably as good a run as the winner, so we feel like there is some unfinished business there.

“Mark is going to get the opportunity to redeem himself on the first Tuesday in November with her, provided she gets in with a reasonable handicap.”

Verry Elleegant will kick off her campaign in Saturday’s Group 1 Winx Stakes at Randwick and then will tackle the George Main Stakes on September 18, before a decision is made on her next start after that.

“It’ll certainly be at least two (runs in Sydney), so she’ll go from the Winx Stakes to the George Main, that’s set in stone,” Sokolski said.

“And then a decision will be made post the George Main whether she stays in Sydney for the Hill Stakes or runs in the Turnbull on the same day in Melbourne.

“Now if you look at the historical evidence with Chris (Waller) and particularly with Winx, he does normally like to put a run in them in Melbourne prior, but by the same token, the prizemoney has increased in the Hill Stakes in her own backyard and that will be given serious consideration as well.”

Sokolski will have a strong hand in this year’s Spring Carnival with Incentivise the current favourite for both the Melbourne Cup and the Caulfield Cup.

Glen Boss has been booked for the ride on the five-year-old gelding, and while he has begun the rigorous quarantine measures, Sokolski said it was “inconceivable” for James McDonald to go through the same to keep the ride on Verry Elleegant.

“Look at how much difficulty Bossy is having getting into Victoria, and he is a resident returning, and he’s going to have to go through quarantine systems in the Northern Territory and then spend two weeks self-quarantining in Melbourne, it’s just really inconceivable to think that a New South Wales jockey is going to be able to participate in the Melbourne Spring Carnival,” he said.

“Even if he could, at a minimum he’s going to have to do two weeks quarantine and no top-flight jockey in their right mind would sacrifice two Saturdays of riding in the pointy end of the Spring Carnival.”

Verry Elleegant is unlikely to attempt to defend her crown in the Caulfield Cup, with the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup her two main targets in Victoria this spring.

The star mare is a $9 second-favourite behind Zaaki in the Cox Plate and a $31 chance in the Melbourne Cup.

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