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Verry Elleegant can move closer to securing Horse of the Year honours as defending champ Nature Strip commences a late season surge to retain the coveted crown.
Both outstanding racehorses are resuming on Saturday – Verry Elleegant is the $3.80 favourite for the Group 2 $250,000 Apollo Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick while is at $4 for the Group 1 $750,000 Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) at Flemington.
Sydney's premier trainer Chris Waller, who prepares Verry Elleegant and Nature Strip, could have his sixth consecutive Horse of the Year winner with his all-time great mare Winx claiming the most prestigious award in Australian racing four times between 2016-19.
But Verry Elleegant is the frontrunner for the honour this season after winning three races at Group 1 level last spring — Winx Stakes, Turnbull Stakes and Caulfield Cup.
Waller's versatile mare won over a range of distances, 1400m 2000m and 2400m, and under handicap, weight-for-age, and set weights and penalties race conditions.
The only other multiple Group 1 winners so far this season are Arcadia Queen, Behemoth, Montefilia and Ole Kirk with two big-race wins each last spring.
Form expert Gary Crispe said there are a number of contenders for Horse of the Year this season but Verry Elleegant has put herself into the box position after her outstanding spring campaign.
"Verry Elleegant has shown incredible versatility to win her three Group 1 races last spring and if she can add to that record through the autumn, then it is going to take something very special to wrest the title from her,'' he said.
"It's a remarkable statistic that 14 of the last 21 Horse of the Years have been won by mares, most notably Winx, Black Caviar, Makybe Diva and Sunline.
"I think if Verry Elleegant can secure another Group 1 win this autumn then she should claim the award and earn her place on the honour roll alongside those great mares.''
But Crispe said there is evidence to suggest Verry Elleegant may have already done enough to secure Horse of the Year.
"When Nature Strip won the award last year, he did so after a season which included three Group 1 wins and a Group 3,'' Crispe said.
"Dissident won the 2014-15 title after winning four Group 1 races, Lankan Rupee (2013-14) won three Group 1 races plus a Group 2 and Group 3 win, while Typhon Tracy (2009/10) had won four Group 1 races but only two against all ages and sex.
"So Verry Elleegant's record already this season compares very favourably with some previous Horse of the Year winners.''
Verry Elleegant is the $3.80 favourite in early TAB Fixed Odds betting to win the Apollo and claim a rare Randwick 1400m weight-for-age double.
The only winners of the Winx Stakes-Apollo Stakes double are Sunline in 1999-2000 and Winx, who achieved the feat twice in 2016-17 and 2018-19. Coincidentally, Sunline and Winx were voted Horse of the Year in the seasons they won the Winx-Apollo double.
Verry Elleegant has had two barrier trials and an exhibition gallop between races to prepare for her Randwick return on Saturday.
The five-year-old mare looked physically stronger and more powerful in her exhibition gallop last Saturday which augurs well for her comeback in the Apollo Stakes.
Mares have a superior record in the Apollo Stakes this century, winning the race 11 times since 2000 including Winx's treble of 2016, 2017 and 2019.
This trend is set to continue on Saturday with Verry Elleegant's stablemate, Funstar ($4.80) pressing for favouritism while Golden Eagle winner Colette ($9.50) and Toffee Tongue ($41) are also resuming in the Apollo Stakes.
Verry Elleegant has achieved a peak Timeform rating of 120 this season but this is well below the 128 ratings returned by The Everest winner Classique Legend and Darley Sprint Classic winner Bivouac last spring.
Nature Strip was winless in three races last spring and he has not been able to get near his career-best Timeform rating of 129 he recorded winning the TJ Smith Stakes last season.
But Nature Strip looked his old self winning a barrier trial from Bivouac at Rosehill last month and then a Flemington jump-out last Friday.
Nature Strip does boast a very good straight track record but so does his arch rival Bivouac.
When the two brilliant sprinters last raced, Bivouac defeated Nature Strip by more than three lengths in the Darley Sprint Classic.
Godolphin sprinter Bivouac, who has a 2-1 lead in head-to-head clashes with Nature Strip, is the $2.70 favourite with the reigning Horse of the Year next at $4.
On the 30th anniversary of Shaftesbury Avenue's Lightning Stakes win, Bivouac's trainer James Cummings is hoping to his family's winning tradition in the feature Flemington sprint.
The Godolphin trainer's grandfather, the legendary Bart Cummings, holds the training record for the Lightning Stakes with seven wins, the last of those coming from Shaftesbury Avenue.
James Cummings said Bivouac excels on the Flemington straight course where he has won twice at Group 1 level.
"Bivouac will come into this race full of confidence after that impressive trial at Rosehill,'' Cummings said. "He certainly has the X-factor and he'll rapidly improve from this run. He's going to be serving it up to them again."
Online article taken from the racenet.