A champion, by definition, is one who has surpassed all rivals in a sporting contest or other competition; something Verry Elleegant achieved for the ninth time at the top level in Saturday's George Main Stakes.
But for many, champion isn't a word with a literal meaning but rather a label, defined and decided by the musings of the punditry, and many judges have her falling short. According to their conventional wisdoms, she's hardly achieving much, and it's going to take more than pegging back Riodini for Verry Elleegant to change that widely-held belief.
Verry Elleegant ran to a rating of 119 winning on Saturday. A strong performance but, when measured, it comes up well short of where the world's best reside, well short of what it typically takes to win the George Main, and well short of the sort of performances produced by the champions that have won the race. The two biggest ratings in the George Main this century belong to two who few would dispute carry the tag; Lonhro ran to 128 and Winx 129.
Verry Elleegant sits a fair way behind that pair on easy-to-count numbers and it's the easy-to-count numbers that are held dearest when it comes time for judgement.
When buying a house there is a huge emphasis on number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and space measured in square feet. But each square foot isn't as valuable as the last. One square foot may be vastly more valuable than another. Measured they are the same, but one sits in a leafy garden and provides a spot to catch some evening sunshine over a glass of something from the Margaret River, while the other is an awkward bit of space in the second bathroom that provides nothing but a bit of extra vaccuming.
Verry Elleegant has won just 'one major' cry her knockers, counting as they do, but each 'major' - like another square foot of land - isn't made equal. Who could sit back and watch Verry Elleegant wobbling around Caulfield before repelling an Epsom Derby winner and simply count 'one' in the same way they counted 'one' for Boom Time two years prior? And who could say her beating a Champion winner in Addeybb (a champion of the Champion) in a Ranvet wasn't as good as some 'majors' just because the Ranvet isn't worth a larger chunk of the punters taxes?
Saturday's win returned a rating of 119 rather than 129, and the racebook said George Main not Cox Plate, but what a grand sight it was to see the plucky little daughter of Zed dig her ugly little toes in and peg back the magnificently-ridden leader. Side note: Rachel King's ride on Riodini was the best of the day at Randwick. Nash was brave on High Supremacy, powerful on Eduardo, and successful on both, but King got every last drop out of Riodini with supreme timing and efficiency. He will never run better than that in his life.
Verry Elleegant is not Winx. She's not Lonhro*. She (probably) couldn't win an Arc or a Japan Cup as, on talent, she's (probably) not in the top 20 worldwide. But watching her do her thing is like sitting in the perfect spot in a garden with a glass. It doesn't matter how many gold medals are in that glass, or how much it cost, what's great about it is beyond the basic counts. Verry Elleegant is a match for any on the immeasurables**.
Elsewhere on Saturday:
- Eduardo ran to 125 beating Nature Strip in The Shorts. A race that Redzel and Classique Legend both won en route to winning the Everest. Eduardo is now four from five in 2021 with two wins over Nature Strip, the horse we declared the best sprinter in the world two weeks ago. But it is noteworthy that the one loss came over the Randwick 1200m against Nature Strip when he was 'in the zone' running to 129. A return to that form would likely turn things around on Eduardo on Grand Final day once again.
- Sierra Sue put up a slight new peak of 115 winning the Rupert Clarke at Caulfield. Probabeel and Behemoth put up the highest ratings in the race at 121 apiece but the eye-catcher was I'm Thunderstruck who ran third despite having plenty against him. Thunderstruck was very warm in the betting but the scenario meant that he wasn't able to better his pre-race rating of 114p. But his run didn't do anything to suggest that he won't blow that away in a better spot in the coming weeks.
* The 128-rated Lonhro may have been a little bit better than that in truth but it is worth noting that his 'major count' sits at zero. He was dusted in two Cox Plate attempts and missed in his chance to add a big handicap to his CV when fourth in the Doncaster. Verry Elleegant has a big 'cap, something we rightly hold dear in Australia.
** One measurable in her favour is versatility. Verry Elleegant may not have the peak ratings to match a horse like (for example) Palace Pier, arguably the best in the world right now, but it's no contest on the score of versatility. She ran gamely having been left with too much to do in last year's Melbourne Cup at two miles having started the campaign with a Group One win over 1400m. Her range is nine furlongs. His is one. He may have bigger ratings but not by a factor of nine!