Chipping Norton clash of star mares looms as something special

Since being elevated to Group 1 status in 1986, the G1 Chipping Norton S. has been won by some of Australia’s greatest horses, the likes of Super Impose, Octagonal (NZ), Lonhro and of course the two horses which won the race on four occasions, Tie The Knot (Nassipour {USA}) and Winx (Street Cry {Ire}).

On Saturday, two star mares, Verry Elleegant (NZ) (Zed {NZ}) and Colette (Hallowed Crown), will look to add their names to that illustrious honour board, in a race which only the best mares have won over the years.

Since 2000, the only mares that have won the Chipping Norton have been Winx (2016-2019) and Tuesday Joy (NZ) (Carnegie {Ire}) (2009), while before that you have to go back to the very first time the race was run at Group 1 level, when the Neville Begg-trained Heat Of The Moment (Blazing Saddles) prevailed. Two years prior, at Group 2 level, it was the champion mare Emancipation (Bletchingly) who was the victor.

That was back when the race, named after the nearby suburb, was run at Warwick Farm, which it was pretty much run every year from 1979 until 2000 (1992 was the exception). The 2001, 2008 and 2009 editions were also run at Randwick, while in 2016, the year Winx win her first Chipping Norton, the race moved permanently to the eastern suburbs, casting aside its western suburban roots.

A great deal has been written about Verry Elleegant over the past couple of years, and rightly so, given she has established herself as Australasia’s pre-eminent mare, with six Group 1 wins in the space of two years. Up until this point, she has arguably improved with each preparation with Chris Waller, as evidenced in her victory in the G1 Caulfield Cup last spring.

Verry Elleegant (NZ)

One of her chief challengers for the title of the country’s best mare is Colette, who followed in her footsteps by winning the G1 Australian Oaks last autumn and then followed that up with victory against many of the country’s best 4-year-olds in the $7.5 million Golden Eagle last year.

She is a mare of genuine class, especially on rain-affected tracks, on which she is unbeaten. She demonstrated that class in the G2 Apollo S. last time out, beating the 2019 Golden Eagle winner Kolding (NZ) (Ocean Park {NZ}) by 2l, with Verry Elleegant another 0.2l back in third.

It may have been a Group 2 race, but Colette beat six Group 1 winners on that occasion, including Funstar (Adelaide {Ire}), Toffee Tongue (NZ) (Tavistock {NZ}), Fifty Stars (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and Prince Fawaz (Fastnet Rock).

Trainer James Cummings feels Saturday’s Chipping Norton S. which features five of her rivals from the Apollo S., Toffee Tongue, Funstar, Prince Fawaz, Kolding and Verry Elleegant, as well as stablemate Avilius (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) and imports Southern France (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Master Of Wine (Ire) (Maxios {GB}) and gives her further opportunity to improve her impressive record.

“Track and weather forecasts suggest she will have similar conditions to those she enjoyed in her impressive first-up victory,” Cummings said.

“She meets similar opposition on Saturday, she is fit and healthy, and steps up to the mile. We are hopeful of a repeat performance.”

“She (Colette) meets similar opposition on Saturday, she is fit and healthy, and steps up to the mile. We are hopeful of a repeat performance.” – James Cummings

Colette’s lone win from four starts at the 1600 metres was in a benchmark race at Kembla Grange and she did find the Group 1 races over the mile in the spring beyond her, finishing fifth in the George Main and sixth in the Epsom H.

Both of those runs were on good tracks and at this stage Randwick is rated a much more suitable Soft 7, with light rain predicted for Friday and Saturday.

Colette sourced from a family of stars

In many ways the careers of Verry Elleegant and Colette mirror each other as the star progeny of their respective sires. 

Colette is a daughter of Libretto (Ire) (Singspiel {Ire}), who was brought to Australia by the then Darley operation in 2003, producing the Listed winner Mestasio (Street Cry {Ire}) and four other winners as well as Colette.

Hallowed Crown | Standing at Twin Hills Stud

Libretto was unraced but was herself a daughter of a highly influential broodmare in Group 3 winner Truly Special (Ire) (Cearleon {Ire}).

Among her descendants across five generations is an amazing 18 stakes winners, including Group 1 winners Cerulean Sky (Ire) (Darshaan {GB}), Moonstone (GB) (Dalakhani {Ire}) and Colette.

Group 1 placegetters Wareed (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells {USA}), Honolulu {Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}), Royal Bench (Ire) (Whipper {USA}), Dream Peace (Ire) (Dansili {GB}), Memphis Tennessee (Ire) (Hurricane Run {Ire}), Orchestra (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), US Army Ranger (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), Master Of Reality (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), L’Ancresse(Ire) (Darshaan {GB}), Frenzified (GB) (Yeats {Ire}) and Catcher In The Rye (Ire) (Danehill {USA}) are also descendants of Truly Special.

In all, she features in the pedigree of 227 winners from 358 runners, which have combined for 37 stakes wins.