Graffard to train Australian Arc hopeful Verry Elleegant after surprise switch
Francis Graffard has hailed both the sportsmanship of Verry Elleegant's owners and the superb job done by trainer Chris Waller, following the shock announcement the Melbourne Cup winner would soon ship to his Chantilly stable to be prepared for a full European campaign.
The Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe had originally been talked of as a target by Waller for the six-year-old mare, who has won 11 Group 1s in Australia, but more recently he mentioned the British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes later in October.
But in a statement released by Waller on behalf of Verry Elleegant's ownership group, it is clear the dream of running Australia's best older middle-distance and staying horse in Europe’s signature race has remained alive, with the decision taken after "further thought to what constitutes the right plan for our beautiful mare".
Graffard told the Racing Post: "It is very sporting on the part of the owners and they want to try this for the sport and the adventure. They know how hard the challenge is and they have given me a complete blank slate in terms of how I train her and which races to aim at.
"She likes soft ground which is a help and she is being sent over early so that there will be all the time I need to adapt to her and her to me."
Given Verry Elleegant’s adaptability in terms of both ground and trip – in the last two seasons she has won Group 1s at a mile, ten furlongs, a mile and a half and two miles – Graffard will have a wide range of options as to how to campaign her, although if the owners are to realise their dream of seeing her line up in the Arc, they will need to supplement her for €120,000.
"The idea behind the project is to have her line up in the Arc but there’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet," said Graffard, who was also keen to acknowledge the role Waller has played in fashioning Verry Elleegant’s career.
"I'm conscious I'll be standing on the shoulders of a giant taking Verry Elleegant on from Chris Waller, who has done an impeccable job with her," said Graffard.
"Chantilly is the most beautiful place in the world to train racehorses and this is a wonderful opportunity for Australian fans to discover this jewel."
Waller described his time with Verry Elleegant as “an honour", while the statement from her owners outlined the thinking behind such an ambitious change of tack.
It read: "We know she's a world-class stayer but we expect her to be weighted out of the Cups and there are limited options for her domestically.
"After much deliberation, we came to the realisation that if we want to campaign her in Europe, we need to do it properly and send her to be trained and prepared in the northern hemisphere."
Where might we see Verry Elleegant in Europe?
While Francis Graffard is getting to know his newest trainee, we can all have plenty of fun playing at fantasy racing manager and plotting a campaign for Verry Elleegant.
Working backwards from October 3, when her owners hope to be in the parade ring at Longchamp ahead of the 101st Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, we might be looking at a three-race campaign, allowing for plenty of acclimatisation on arrival.
That could entail one run in August and one in September, given Graffard will be sticking to his own principles rather than trying to replicate an Australian preparation.
Verry Elleegant has won at a mile, but under European conditions it would be a surprise, and the Yorkshire Oaks might fit the bill.
If not travelling abroad, there is the alternative of the Prix Jean Romanet, a Group 1 run over 1m2f at Deauville the following Sunday, and arguably preferable to running with a penalty in the Group 2 Prix de Pomone on the same day.
Three weeks on and once again it might be a case of racing against her own sex, with the Prix Vermeille on the Arc Trials card an obvious pick.
There again, her copper-bottomed stamina gives plenty of alternatives, including the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes over 1m6f at Doncaster the same weekend, or else the Irish St Leger over the same trip at the Curragh.
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