Ardmore Lodge trainer Nick Bishara is thankful to own a share in top mare Verry Elleegant and readily admits the New Zealand-bred daughter of Zed has extended the life of his business on more than one occasion. The multiple Group 1 winner commenced her career in New Zealand under the tutelage of the South Auckland trainer for a syndicate put together by Bishara and her breeder Don Goodwin.
Sold to Australia after winning two of her three starts, Bishara and the original syndicate members still have a 25 percent ownership interest in Verry Elleegant, while fellow Kiwis John and Mark Carter, and their sister Rachel, who race under Jomara Bloodstock also have a 25 percent interest.
The winner of last season’s Group 1 ATC Oaks (2400m), Verry Elleegant has banked in excess of A$250,000 in her past three starts, which include a valiant second placing to Addeybb in last week’s Group 1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m). The Chris Waller-trained mare will back-up in Saturday’s Group 1 Tancred Stakes (2400m) and has been installed a $2 favourite for the A$1.5 million contest.
Like most, Bishara has had a trying week as New Zealand went into lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19 but said the races from across the Tasman were a welcome distraction. “I am just grateful for Australia,” Bishara said. “That was a scare there yesterday with Mark Zahra (jockey) thankfully testing negative to the coronavirus and racing can go ahead. “It is something to look forward to. There is no footy on TV and I’m usually at the stables barking orders and busy, but I am here by myself mucking out and feeding. One of the staff, who I am committed to, comes in for an hour. “But you’re sitting at home watching re-runs of movies. Most people in the horse industry are really active people. They don’t sit still, so it is hugely frustrating, but it is necessary to get on top of the virus.”
Bishara said he was so proud of Verry Elleegant’s performance last week which was shades of yesteryear. “It was a massive run,” he said. I was gutted to be beaten but so proud of her. While they’re not in the same class as Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star, it reminded me a bit of that as they drew away from the field. They ran the fastest last 600m of the day. “I am hopeful she can back-up. Chris is pretty mindful of that. He said everything looks really good and all systems are go. But the little query must be that she never has backed-up and it was a tough run last week.”
With the economic impact of Covid-19 already kicking in, Bishara couldn’t stress how fortunate he was to have an interest in the top mare. “I’d probably be going to the wall again if it wasn’t for her,” he said. “No one saw this virus coming and I had the horses in full swing to go to the races and you bank on having clients and people to pay to keep things ticking over and we’re back to square one. She has probably saved me more than once, so I am very grateful.”
Star New Zealand jockey James McDonald will again partner the in-form mare and is confident of another bold showing. “She’s absolutely airborne,” McDonald said. “I couldn’t have been more proud of her effort last week. It’s hard to believe a horse can run so well and run second like she did. She is in career best form and has pulled up really well from what I’ve heard and she will be awfully hard to beat in a Tancred. “I think it is the right race. She hasn’t been over the mile and half since she won the (ATC) Oaks (Group 1, 2400m) and I am looking forward to seeing her back over that trip. The way she is racing, she will be hard to beat. “I think over a mile and a half she will use her turn of foot to an advantage and she is meeting a similar field, if not easier than the Ranvet.”
While looking forward to Saturday, Bishara is making adaptions on the home front to ensure all his horses receive the best of care with Ardmore Lodge in lockdown. Horse feed has been an issue with people panic buying just like supermarkets, but Bishara was relieved when the local feed shop remained open, albeit with restrictions, and notified him they have ample supply being restocked. “It was crazy on Wednesday before the lockdown,” he said. “I went to the feed shop and there wasn’t a bag of feed left. People were queued out the door and they were just grabbing food, throwing money on the counter and leaving. But thankfully they’re deemed an essential service and will be still open.
“I have got a few paddocks, but we’re still in the middle of a drought up here where we have no grass. I am having to come down and feed out a couple of bales of haylage. “This is a serious virus. I spent the last three months getting my winter team ready to go, so it is devastating for me, just like many others.” Bishara’s wife is working from home so there have been lifestyle changes all round. “She works for an accountant, which is the worst possible person to have as a wife when you have horses because the books never balance,” he quipped.