The performance of dainty New Zealand-bred mare Verry Elleegant fending off Epsom Derby-winning blueblood Anthony Van Dyck in Saturday’s Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) is a triumph for all who dare to dream in the sport of thoroughbred racing and breeding.
From humble beginnings, the daughter of unheralded Grangewilliam Stud sire Zed has amassed the best part of A$7 million in prizemoney and will provide her owners with the thrill of a lifetime when she competes in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) on the first Tuesday in November.
Among the part-owners in Verry Elleegant is her Auckland-based Octogenarian breeder Don Goodwin. The six-time Group 1 winner is testament to Goodwin’s unwavering faith in the pairing of Verry Elleegant’s dam Opulence, a two-win Danroad mare, with the Zabeel stallion Zed.
The Verry Elleegant story is one of persistence and is years in the making, with Goodwin a shareholder in Zed from the time he was sold as a yearling at Karaka in 2004 for $400,000. A builder by trade, racing is a passion Goodwin has shared over the years with John Carter Senior, father to John Junior and Mark and Rachel Carter of Jomara Bloodstock and Humidor fame.
Out of the Group 1-winning mare Emerald Dream, who was raced by the Carters, Zed’s racing promise went unfulfilled due to injury, including an incident on a float as a two-year-old which resulted in a life-threatening injury.
“Murray Baker got him up and running after the float injury and he won a maiden at Hawke’s Bay on his ear,” Goodwin said. “He went into the Waikato Guineas (Group 3, 2000m) and he was already favourite for the New Zealand Derby (Group 1, 2400m) but he broke down. “He had a couple of runs after that, but we never got him back to what he was and we’re lucky we didn’t geld him.”
Pedigree and potential provided Zed with a place on the Little Avondale Stud roster in 2007, and the bargain basement service fee of $500+GST was enough encouragement for 131 broodmares to visit the son of Zabeel. As patronage started to wane to the staying-bred sire, Zed was eventually banished to Erewhon Station in the South Island where he spent 2012 covering Clydesdale mares and hacks.
But on the back of his second crop of foals, which numbered just 47, quality gallopers Survived, Usanity and Ambitious Champion would emerge. Zed would once again be embraced by thoroughbred breeders looking for a value-for-money sire as he relocated to the Corcoran family’s Grangewilliam Stud.
An influx of 168 mares in 2013 was short-lived but the well-bred stallion, who traces to the great broodmare Eight Carat, has still enjoyed more rolls in the hay than most. “He’s done it the hard way, he’s hardly ever had a Book 1 mare sent to him,” Mark Corcoran said. “He’ll cover about 60 mares this year at $6,000.”
Zed has had 16 stakes performers to date, while he has also sired a string of quality jumpers including Zed Em, who has topped A$1 million in earnings, but Verry Elleegant, who was born and raised at the South Taranaki nursery is clearly the standout performer. “If we’d taken her to the sales, she would have made $2,000. That was the reality at the time,” Corcoran said.
“All the Zeds sold last year and most of them went to Australia, that’s the difference now. “Zeds aren’t really suited to that Asian market because they do take a bit of time and the pinhookers and Ready to Run guys didn’t really want to buy them because they didn’t suit that Asian market.”
Verry Elleegant’s Caulfield Cup win was the third winner of the race to come from Grangewilliam Stud. “Doriemus won it 25 years ago and before we took over, a horse called Silver Bounty won the race in the early 80s,” Corcoran said. “It’s a bloody good property with good pasture and it breeds bloody good, hardy horses.”
The union of Zed and Opulence in 2014, which produced Verry Elleegant, was very much a planned one and is likely to be a mate for life. Like Zed, Opulence traces to the great Eight Carat, whose matings to Zed’s sire Zabeel produced champions Octagonal and Mouawad.
Goodwin struck upon genetic gold when he purchased Opulence for $14,000 from small-time Auckland trainer Nick Bishara at the 2011 Karaka Mixed Bloodstock Sale. His convictions in the double-up of Eight Carat have proved well-founded and his broodmare band now numbers two, with his other mare by Flying Spur tracing back to the dam of Eight Carat. Both mares are currently in foal to Zed.
Bishara and Goodwin would subsequently become friends and fittingly still share in the ownership of Verry Elleegant, who was originally trained by Bishara to win two of her first three starts before selling down their stake in the filly. “When you decide these bloodlines will work, you’ve got to give them a fair go,” Goodwin said. “You can have two full siblings and one can be good and the other can be awful. “Zed has got the right bloodlines for her and we have stayed the course.”
Goodwin also races Verry Elleegant’s older brother Verry Flash, who has won seven races for Bishara, while he sold a now two-year-old colt at Karaka earlier this year to leviathan Western Australian owner Bob Peters.
Although COVID-19 restrictions have prevented Goodwin from travelling to see his pride and joy, he is looking forward to being at the Ellerslie races on Melbourne Cup Day to hopefully toast success with his fellow Kiwi owners in the mare.
The vindicated breeder was still pinching himself following Verry Elleegant’s Caulfield Cup triumph and can’t imagine what it would be like to win the Melbourne Cup. “You can’t define it. I still can’t believe we won the Caulfield Cup and to win a Melbourne Cup would be a dream come true,” he said.