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Paradox and planning come together in a Verry Elleegant result

Mark Carter (centre) leads Verry Elleegant and James McDonald back to the winner’s stall after the Vinery Sud Stakes.

Mark Carter (centre) leads Verry Elleegant and James McDonald back to the winner’s stall after the Vinery Sud Stakes.

Our Fasttrack Breeder Profile focus's on octogenarian Don Goodwin

In thoroughbred racing and breeding it’s never hard to find examples of the paradox that makes both pursuits so intriguing and unpredictable.

The latest telling example came in the Gr. 1 Vinery Stud Stakes at Rosehill last week when NZ-bred Verry Elleegant led home Frankly Awesome, a filly conceived in the United Kingdom and born in Australia. The origins of both are not the only stark contrast; the other is that Verry Elleegant was sired by Zed, a stallion who at the time stood at a fee of just $500, whereas Frankely Awesome resulted from a service fee at the other end of the global scale – £125,000 for the privilege of a mating with champion galloper Frankel.

On Saturday the talented pair will again go head-to-head in pursuit of the premier prize for staying fillies in this part of the world, the A$1 million Australian Oaks. In the same field will be another filly, Imelda Mary, who exemplifies the bargain basement theory.

That Ferlax filly cost her owners just $3,500 as a yearling in the 2017 Karaka Festival Sale catalogue. Her domestic season ended by sharing the New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year title with Queen Of Diamonds, a daughter of champion stallion Savabeel who changed hands when the China Horse Club’s Michael Wallace bid $640,000 for her at the same National Yearling Sale that produced Imelda Mary.

The back story to Verry Elleegant is one of putting faith in your own judgement and backing it all the way to the ultimate result. The key player is Auckland octogenarian Don Goodwin, who bred Verry Elleegant, formed a syndicate that placed her with South Auckland trainer Nick Bishara and has since seen her scale the heights to Group One glory.

Anyone privileged to reach 80 years of age has more than one or two interesting aspects to their lives, and Goodwin is no exception. He was born in the South Waikato farming district of Okoroire but grew up in west Auckland, in a state housing area of Waterview and on the same street as the Carter family.

“John Carter senior and I have been mates since we were kids – we were in the same Suburbs midgets’ rugby team in 1948,” Carter reflected in the days after Verry Elleegant’s Vinery Stud Stakes win. “As we grew up we were both keen on racing and John and I had the odd horse together, so it’s all gone from there.”

The name Carter was to become a household name in New Zealand rugby, via John Carter’s sons Mark and John junior. Both represented Auckland at senior level and Mark gained fame as a hard-hitting All Black open-side flanker in the 1990s.

Later that decade the Carter brothers joined forces with their sister Rachael to form Jomara Bloodstock and made a life-changing investment when they bought the well-bred young racemare Emerald Dream. By Danehill from the Cotehele House branch of the famous Eight Carat line, Emerald Dream hit the jackpot for her new owners by winning the Gr. 1 Whakanui Stud International Stakes at Te Rapa in 2002.

The trio subsequently invested heavily in Emerald Dream at stud, producing Zed and Zabene to her initial matings with Zabeel. Zabene went on to win at stakes level as well as finishing second in the New Zealand Cup, while even greater heights beckoned for Zed when he showed real promise at three.

Unfortunately an injury suffered in a transporter undermined those plans and he retired at four years with a single win from just four starts. Thankfully Zed was still a colt and the story of his unlikely start at stud has been well documented – a fee of just $500 at Little Avondale Stud until, after five years when his books began at 130 mores and dipped to 30, he was “exiled” to cover Clydesdale mares in the South Island.

 That lasted only a year, as back on the racetrack Zed’s progeny were really standing up, resulting in a return north to Wanganui’s Grangewilliam Stud in 2013, when he covered no less than 168 mares at a fee of $4,000.

Don Goodwin was part of the Zed story from the start, taking an interest in the racehorse that was unable to realise his ability on the track before making it at stud.

“I went through the whole thing with the Carters and when he went to Little Avondale I first sent an old Vice Regal mare I had, then I went looking for a younger mare with the bloodlines to match Zed’s.

“That’s why I bought Opulence; mating her with Zed would be double-up to Danehill as well as to Eight Carat through her daughter Cotehele House.”

Opulence, by Danehill’s son Danroad and tracing directly to Hall of Fame broodmare Eight Carat, cost Goodwin $14,000 when South Auckland trainer Nicholas Bishara offered her at the 2011 Karaka Autumn Mixed Sale. The winner of two races, she was carrying a service to Little Avondale stallion Towkay and returned to the Wairarapa stud for her date with Zed.

Her first foal by Zed was premature and died, and it wasn’t until 2014 that she produced a viable foal, the colt that became known as Verry Flash. That’s where Bishara re-entered the picture, having trained the Towkay filly from Opulence that Goodwin sold as a weanling and, as Black Lace, has to date won three times.

“When Nick ended up with the first foal from the mare I had bought off him, I figured he was still keen on the breed,” Goodwin explained. “This guy seemed interested so it made sense to me to give him Verry Flash to train, and then as it turned out the filly that followed.”

With Verry Flash already in work under the ownership of Goodwin and Bishara, Goodwin attempted to lease the younger sister but came up blank and ended up retaining a 50 per cent interest, with the balance taken up by a group that included Bishara and Black Lace’s part-owner Matt Duffy.

While Verry Flash was putting together a decent enough record, the filly known as Verry Elleegant proved an almost instant hit. As a late two-year-old she finished second on debut to the talented Cyber Attack and won her two spring starts – both NZB Insurance Pearl Series races – before the intensity of interest resulted in a change to her ownership group.

“Offers were coming from everywhere but we couldn’t quite crack it,” says Goodwin. “Then Mark Carter came up with a proposal that meant we could stay in her. Half an hour after her second win at Matamata in September – I was in the Winner’s Circle accepting the bottle of wine – and the phone went.

“It was easy in the end, the deal was done and look where we are now!”

The Jomara Bloodstock trio had the earlier experience of reconfiguring the ownership around their talented galloper Humidor, transferring him to then champion Victorian trainer Darren Weir and still being able to enjoy highs such as victory in the Gr. 1 Australian Cup and a tantalisingly close second to Winx in the third of the great mare’s four Cox Plates.

Verry Elleegant followed a similar route to Weir’s Ballarat stable, finishing third in her first start before winning the Gr. 3 Ethereal Stakes at Caulfield. When Weir was disqualified Verry Elleegant was transferred to Chris Waller and in three starts from those quarters she has won twice and finished second in the other.

Every step taken by the big brown has been positive, not only in actual form but also in the ringcraft she has acquired, culminating in a Vinery Stud Stakes win that stamped her credentials for Saturday’s Australian Oaks.

“The Vinery Stakes was great and now to be lining up as favourite in the Australian Oaks on the same day as Winx’s final race – we couldn’t have timed it better,” says Goodwin.

“We were at Rosehill with bells on and it will be the same again. If she wins that would be fantastic and all credit to everyone involved, but most of all Chris Waller.

“The way he’s pulled it all together just shows what a genius the guy is.”  Dennis Ryan


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