Graffard confirms Verry Elleegant will run at QIPCO British Champions Day

Last year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant will be given one last chance to show European racegoers what she is made of on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot next Saturday after trainer Francis Graffard confirmed she will join the stable’s Prix Vermeille winner Sweet Lady in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.

A four-length winner of the ‘Race That Stops The Nation’ under a big weight at Flemington last November, Very Elleegant went on to add an eleventh Group 1 success to her glittering CV in the Chipping Norton Stakes at Randwick in February, but she has so far been underwhelming in three races for Graffard in France. 

On Saturday she was seventh in the Qatar Prix Royallieu, to which she had been switched when it became clear that a supplementary entry for the Qatar Prix de l’Arc De Triomphe was unnecessary as her downgraded official mark would be too low for her to make the cut in that race.

Graffard has been both frustrated and saddened that the star mare has not been able to do herself justice in Europe so far, but he attributes Saturday’s disappointing show to circumstance and will no doubt have taken encouragement from the words of her rider Mark Zahra, and also her former trainer Chris Waller, both of whom have said since that she is well worth another shot. He remains adamant that she retains the ability and the enthusiasm to make her mark at Ascot.

Ending speculation that the Prix Royallieu might have marked the end of the road for Verry Elleegant, Graffard said: “Verry Elleegant will come to Ascot for the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares. She was very unlucky in the way the race was run at Longchamp, where there was no tempo and she was boxed in on the rail and pulled hard. She basically didn’t have a race.

“It’s hard to see such a fantastic mare beaten like that and it’s upsetting too, but I felt that the race was over for her at the first bend when I saw where we were. Everything went against her and it’s best forgotten, but she’s come out of it well. She’s happy and she tries, and hopefully things will go her way at QIPCO British Champions Day.”

Graffard is a big fan of QIPCO British Champions Day and had the Fillies & Mares in mind for Verry Elleegant back in the summer, before she made a delayed debut for the stable at Deauville. At the same time, he also spoke of aiming Sweet Lady for the same race, and the filly confirmed her place on his Ascot team with a gutsy all-the-way win in last month’s Prix Vermeille, on Longchamp’s ‘trials day’. 

He won the Prix Vermeille in 2017 with Bateel, who found only the Aidan O’Brien-trained Hydrangea too good on QIPCO British Champions Day, and Sweet Lady is currently disputing favouritism with the likes of Above The Curve, Emily Upjohn and Mimikyu in what promises to be one of the races of the day.

Graffard said: “Sweet Lady will also run and she’s in top form. We decided to avoid Arc weekend and focus on the Fillies & Mares, as we did with Bateel.”

Last year’s QIPCO Champion Stakes winner Sealiway, who joined the stable last winter, will not be taking on Baaeed after a lack-lustre effort in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but Graffard will bring his 2020 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) winner for his fourth run in the race and he could also be represented by Hurricane Dream in the Balmoral Handicap.

The Revenant, who was second to King Of Change in 2019 and fourth to Baaeed last year, faces another very tough opponent in Inspiral, but he seems to retain all of his ability at the age of seven and delighted connections when second to Erevann in Saturday’s Prix Daniel Wildenstein, which has been his prep race every time and which he won in both 2019 and 2020.

Graffard said: “He’s in top form and has come out of Saturday’s race very well. He seems to be as enthusiastic as ever and he has always run well on Champions Day. The softer the ground the better for him.”