Australia: Funstar On A Verry Elleegant Path To Oaks

by | 03.26.2020 | 9:50am
Funstar (James McDonald), trained by Chris Waller wins the Flight Stakes (Group 1) at Randwick on October 5, 2019

Chris Waller trains the favorite for both Group 1 races at Rosehill this Friday night, with one filly trying to emulate the feat of her older stablemate. Funstar is 4/5 favorite for Race 7, the Vinery Stud Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, which serves as the main prep for the Australian Oaks two weeks later. Friday's sixth race is the Tancred Stakes (1 1/2 miles at weight-for-age), for which the 7/5 favorite is Verry Elleegant – winner of the aforementioned Vinery Stud/Oaks double 12 months ago.

Verry Elleegant, now a 4-year-old, enters the $1.5 million Tancred Stakes off a gallant second-place finish just last week, when comfortably clear of the Tancred's second wagering choice, Avilius (9/2). Godolphin's Avilius won the 2019 Tancred, but has not been firing his best shots this year and has to reverse a five-length margin on Verry Eleegant in the space of a week. Interestingly, third wagering choice Mugatoo (5/1) also competed last weekend, albeit in a lesser quality race. Thus, the Tancred Stakes will test the famed durability and tenacity of Australian-trained horses.

It should be noted that Verry Elleegant disappointed in her only previous turnaround of less than two weeks, although other excuses were relevant. The filly is among the quirkiest horses in training, with a propensity for over-racing and a high head-carriage. Verry Elleegant (the spelling is as idiosyncratic as her racing tendencies!) has proved quite a conundrum for master trainer Waller, but allowing her to race closer to the lead in her latest two assignments has seen Verry Elleegant to best effect. Friday's projected slow pace can play right into Verry Elleegant's hands, if she is again ridden with positivity by James McDonald.

McDonald, like Chris Waller, is a transplanted New Zealander who has risen to the top ranks of Australian racing. The pair will endeavor to sweep Friday's Group 1 double in the Vinery Stud Stakes, as the absorbing rivalry between Funstar and Probabeel (3/1) enters unchartered territory. The pair has finished 1-2 in four previous meetings from seven furlongs to a mile, most recently two weeks ago when Funstar took a 3-1 head-to-head lead. This Friday, the star fillies step up to 1 1/4 miles en route to the Australian Oaks, which forms part of “The Championships” at Randwick early next month. In their most recent clash, McDonald utilized Funstar's tactical speed by leading throughout, while Probabeel gave gallant but futile chase from last. Probabeel closed the gap to 1 1/4 lengths and gave every indication that the longer distances in their future would prove advantageous.

However, the Probabeel camp was dealt a blow when jockey Opie Bosson incurred a suspension (for his ride last week on Te Akau Shark). Much had been made of Bosson flying into Sydney from New Zealand, just hours in advance of a new coronavirus protocol that would have seen him quarantined for 14 days. While Bosson narrowly avoided governmental restrictions, he has ironically been sidelined by Australian stewards (jockeys are not afforded the luxury of “designated races” Down Under).

Thus, Kerrin McEvoy will retain the mount after piloting Probabeel last time out. Most owners would give their proverbial eye teeth to engage the services of McEvoy, a winner of three Melbourne Cups who has ridden with distinction in England for Godolphin. However, it is a fascinating quirk of racing that certain jockeys “click” with particular horses, and each of Probabeel's six career wins (including her only victory over Funstar) has come with her Kiwi compatriot Bosson in the saddle.

On this third consecutive weekend of racing at Rosehill, it will be crucial to evaluate early races. Last week's rain-affected surface favored front-runners, and rainfall is forecast for this Friday evening. The card includes several supporting stakes that map a path to Randwick's “The Championships,” a $20-million extravaganza of racing across the first two weekends in April.

Industry leaders in Australia are introducing ever-stricter protocols to increase the sport's continued viability. As recently as last week, jockeys could cross state lines by private vehicle or chartered flight. Now, only horses and their van driver can move between Victoria and New South Wales, with the drop-off coordinated outside racetracks and training centers. Meantime, jockeys are being segregated into regions within each state.

While some leading Melbourne riders will have to forgo participation in The Championships, Opie Bosson might have the last laugh. Despite incurring the stewards' wrath and missing this Friday's card, he will return to action for The Championships – while racing in his native New Zealand, effective this week, has ground to a halt.

The Rosehill card will be broadcast live on TVG this Friday night alongside cards from Doomben, Bendigo and Gold Coast. All races will be live-streamed in HD on skyracingworld.com and major ADW platforms such as TVG, TwinSpiresXpressbet, NYRABets, WatchandWagerHPIbetAmWager, and BetAmerica. Wagering is also available via these ADW platforms. Fans can get free access to live-streaming, past performances and expert picks on all races at skyracingworld.com.

A native of Brisbane, Australia, Michael Wrona has called races in six countries. Michael's vast U.S. experience includes; race calling at Los Alamitos, Hollywood Park, Arlington and Santa Anita, calling the 2000 Preakness on a national radio network and the 2016 Breeders' Cup on the International simulcast network. Michael also performed a race call voiceover for a Seinfeld episode called The Subway.

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