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Palmerbet Spring
Palmerbet Spring
Image: Steve Hart
Verry Elleegant was ranked as the best horse of the season

The 2020/21 racing season was 12 months like no other, with Covid wreaking havoc across numerous parts of the country at various stages.

Records were broken, stars were born, several flopped and others emerged from relatively nowhere. Down below is the Justhorseracing wrap of the 2020/21 season.

The Star

Jamie Kah: I think most assumed she would become a premiership winner in Melbourne. But I think to most, it is a surprise as to how quickly she has done it, and how dominant she has been this season. It took certain stables a while to figure out she is a gun, but once they did eventually cotton on, her numbers went through the roof with good stock underneath her and what made her really standout was how good she was at getting a horse with quirks to run for her eg Starcaster, Cascadian and South Pacific.

The Flop:

Master Of Wine: No doubt in my mind it was Master Of Wine. Just one placing from eight runs this season after looking a Cups horse in the Autumn of 2020. He failed to measure up, significantly, running some shocking races in the Spring. He returned in the Autumn and the best he could do was a plain third in the Neville Sellwood. Given the hype around him leading into this season, he was terribly disappointing. From a single race perspective, the biggest flop was Surprise Baby in the Melbourne Cup. He was well fancied by a number of people but didn’t look a threat at any stage.

The Surprise Packet:

Incentivise: Seriously…where has this horse come from? Got beat in a Toowoomba maiden not that long ago. Fast forward to now and he is favourite for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup. He’s been winning by big margins and the ratings boys and girls love him, believing he’ll measure up in better races. Steve Tregea has done a fab job with him the last couple of months. Now to see if Peter Moody can improve him to be a genuine Cups contender.

Best Jockey

3 Votes – Jamie Kah: Records are there to be broken and Jamie Kah broke the record for most wins in a season at Melbourne metro level, becoming the first rider to win 100 races, achieving the feat recently at Caulfield via Deep Speed for Team McEvoy, a stable that was a huge part of her success in Adelaide before she made the trek to Melbourne. She’s been the form rider in Melbourne this season and showcased her skills on the big stage in both Sydney and Brisbane.

2 Votes – Willie Pike: Perhaps fairly, but Willie Pike was regarded as a flat track bully that continually beat up his fellow riders in WA and when it came to riding in the East, he was a flop. That all changed this season, highlighted of course by a memorable Caulfield Guineas where he rode four winners, including the feature on Ole Kirk. He established himself as one of the best in Australia.

1 Vote – James McDonald: I think this season confirmed well and truly that J Mac is top dog in Sydney and he’ll remain in that position for as long as he wants it. His strike rate of 24.5% at metro level this season stacks up very well with yesteryear and his mentor Darren Beadman, who would consistently ride at 25-26% year after year. He’s the best in Sydney and I’d argue the best in Australia.

Best Trainer

3 Votes – Grant & Alana Williams: They showed Melbourne what they were capable of in 2020 via the All Star Mile win of Regal Power. The Spring Carnival was always going to be the measuring stick for them and they passed with flying colours. Showmanship, prior to injury, looked a Group l winner in waiting, and of course they got Arcadia Queen back to her brilliant best, winning two Group l races and establishing herself as the best middle distance horse in Australia on a dry track. They have dominated Perth racing for years and they were a key factor of the Melbourne Spring.

2 Votes – Chris Waller: He’ll continue winning Sydney premierships for as long as he wants, much like J Mac. But this is more to do with his remarkable efforts in keeping horses like Verry Elleegant and Nature Strip at the top of their game year in year out. Verry Elleegant confirmed champion status with a Caulfield Cup win, and Nature Strip was back to his brilliant best in the Autumn, taking back his mantle as the best sprinter in the country. The stable is a genius at getting quirky horses to find their best.

1 Vote – Ciaron Maher/David Eustace: With no Darren Weir, the door was left open for a new stable to take over as the power house of Victorian racing and this stable, across multiple bases in the state, have set themselves up to be number one in Victoria. It’s been a remarkable season for the camp and they have become the most reliable stable for 2000m+ races, with their strike rate improving out of sight when they get to that distance range.

Best Horse

3 Votes – Verry Elleegant: I think we as an industry are very loose when it comes to labelling a horse a champion. That cannot be disputed with Verry Elleegant. Five Group l wins for the season, won a Caulfield Cup, was outstanding in a Melbourne Cup and beat a world class animal in Addeybb. She’s got nothing left to prove and you would think she will have a crack at the Cox Plate in pursuit of being stamped an all time great.

2 Votes – Explosive Jack: I think he could have given Verry Elleegant a real shake for horse of the year honours if he won the Queensland Derby. It was a remarkable season for this guy, winning the Tassie Derby, then coming out to win the Australian Derby before bolting up in the SA Derby. It’ll be fascinating to see how he goes in the Spring, whether he can measure up.

1 Vote – Nature Strip: There is a theory to suggest he goes better in the Autumn compared to the Spring. That was certainly the case this season. He was somewhat plain in the Spring, but was back to his best in the Autumn, re establishing himself as the best sprinter in the country with wins in the Lightning and TJ Smith. Racing fans hope he comes up in the Spring and sets up what should be a brilliant edition of The Everest.

Best Win

3 Votes – Zaaki (Doomben Cup): He sits behind Incentivise as the hype horse of Australian racing, but there looks to be more substance to this guy. This Doomben Cup win was simply amazing, the way he spanked them after sitting near a strong speed, putting the race to bed 400m out and running incredible time. He’s the Cox Plate favourite and as it stands, looks the pick of the local contingent.

2 Votes – Eduardo (Challenge Stakes): Not many can go eye to eye with Nature Strip and come out on top. Eduardo did so at Randwick in the Challenge Stakes and in doing so, he smashed the track record for the Randwick 1000m in a stunning performance of sustained speed. The question will be now can he stretch that brilliant to 1200m in the Spring given he is all but assured a run in The Everest where he’ll face off with Nature Strip again.

1 Vote – Addeybb (Queen Elizabeth Stakes): Two issues were leading into this race. First, would Blinkers on first time be a masterstroke or backfire? And how would the track play, would he get enough juice in it? Well it was clear early on in the day that there was juice in the track. Blinkers though? Well he missed the start and then had to slide forward, doing a fair share of work to get outside the speed. As is the norm with him, he was under pressure early but like he has done on a number of occasions, he finds when required and was brilliant in fending off Verry Elleegant, winning a memorable Queen Elizabeth.

 
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