Sitting in his living room in Takapuna, a coastal town on the North Shore of Auckland, Don Goodwin could scarcely believe what was unfolding some 2,600 kilometres away at Flemington.
As the mare he bred and part-owns, Verry Elleegant, came round the bend in the Lexus Melbourne Cup, it became abundantly clear to the 10,000 spectators assembled at Flemington and the millions more watching round the world that Australia’s great race was set to become a one-act affair.
When the mare he named after his grand-daughter Ellee strode further and further clear of some of Australia’s – and indeed the globe’s – best-performed stayers, the realisation dawned on Don that regardless of what she had already achieved in her glittering career and indeed what she goes on to accomplish, Verry Elleegant will always be remembered for those three minutes and 17 seconds of pure equine excellence.
“For us Kiwis as well as Aussies, it is the race that stops two nations and we won it,” said the 83-year-old.
“I will dine out on this for many years, as long as I’m alive in fact. You don’t have that many good Tuesdays, but I can safely say that was the best Tuesday of my life.”
The Verry Elleegant story starts back in 2011, when Don acquired New Zealand race mare Opulence at the Broodmare Sale at Karaka. Don subsequently struck up a friendship with Opulence’s former owner and trainer Nick Bishara, who expressed an interest in racing the mare’s progeny.
Don sent Opulence to Grangewilliam Stud to be served by Zed, a sire he had been a great supporter of down the years, and the resulting foal came to be known as Verry Elleegant.
“Zed is a well-bred sire, but he isn’t physically imposing which is probably why he wasn’t considered that fashionable,” he said.
“And Opulence goes back to Eight Carat who is one of the best broodmares in New Zealand, so it’s a very good family and I thought she’d be the ideal mare for him.”
True to his word, Don offered Nick the opportunity to join him in the ownership group and after two wins and a second in her first three starts in New Zealand, the pair realised that they might have a very handy prospect on their hands.
So they made the shrewd move to send Verry Elleegant ‘across the ditch’ and race her in partnership with several Australian owners, including prominent racing figures Brae Sokolski, Ozzie Kheir and John O’Neill.
What Don, Nick and their fellow owners could never have imagined in their wildest dreams is that, just over three years later, Verry Elleegant would land her 10th Group 1 win with an utterly dominant display in the 161st edition of ‘the race that stops a nation’.
“I’m just so proud of her,” said Don.
“I was pretty confident before the Melbourne Cup, and my confidence just grew throughout the race. She just relaxed so well and got into such a good rhythm. Credit to James [McDonald], it was a brilliant ride and he had her in exactly the right place at every stage of the race.
“When she was in the clear down the back straight, I thought to myself that we’ll be right in this, she’s going to be very hard to beat here – and so it proved.
“I thought her Oaks win at Randwick [in 2019] was pretty good, but the Melbourne Cup was just another level. It was comfortably her career best, and I don’t say that lightly as she’s had some career.”
The exciting news is that Opulence is again in foal to Zed, so it’s not inconceivable that Verry Elleegant’s sibling could one day add their name to the rollcall of Melbourne Cup winners.
In the meantime, Don will continue with his daily ritual of watching a replay of the Cup – partly to ensure that it wasn’t just a dream.