The Chipping Norton Stakes has traditionally been the first Sydney Group 1 race of the year but in 2024 it will be known by another name.  

The Australian Turf Club recently announced that they have renamed the iconic feature, the Verry Elleegant Stakes after the two-time winner of the race.  

The $1 million weight-for-age contest run over the Randwick mile has been dominated by champion trainer Chris Waller in recent times.   

Waller has won 10 of the past 13 runnings of the race and will again have a strong hand this year with Fangirl, Atishu, Buckaroo and Lindermann all representing the stable.   

In the saddle James McDonald has been a dominant force, winning the past three editions and boasting four titles in total.  

The Group 2 Apollo Stakes is the traditional lead-up race, and it again provides a key form reference this year.   

Fangirl won the Apollo Stakes two weeks ago and is all the rage as the $1.45 favourite for Saturday’s feature.     

We’ve run the rule over every runner in this year’s Very Elleegant Stakes and provided our findings below. (Prices were current at time of publication)  

1. Think It Over (3)

Price: $8.50

The popular Kerry Parker-trained eight-year-old gelding is no stranger to this race having finished fourth by 1.37 lengths to Verry Elleegant in 2022.  

Unfortunately, a tendon injury would almost bring his career to an end just after he won the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes later that Autumn Carnival.   

Following more than a year off the scene, the son of So You Think not only came back in the 2023 Spring Carnival, but he would defeat the likes of Zaaki and Fangirl to claim an emotional victory in the 7 Stakes over this course and distance.   

He returned two weeks ago in the Apollo Stakes and while he was no match for Fangirl, he held his ground after racing on speed to finish 2.8 lengths third.  

While it is very hard to see him turning the tables on Fangirl, he will strip fitter second-up and the extra distance will be to his liking.   

He’s drawn perfectly in barrier 3 for Nash Rawiller. 

With that in mind, he presents as a good 1×3 betting option.   

2. Cascadian (9)

Price: $18.00

James Cummings and Godolphin won this race last year with Anamoe.   

This year they will be represented by a cult figure of a different kind, a uniquely marked nine-year-old chestnut.   

The form guide shows the son of New Approach as finishing ninth of nine in the Apollo Stakes last start, however he was held up badly in the straight so the last place finish is possibly a bit harsh.  

He ran an amazing race this time last year to finish a half-length second to Mr Brightside in the All-Star Mile before winning the Group 1 Australian Cup.   

He would need to reproduce that sort of form to be competitive here and that seems unlikely particularly from the wide barrier. 

3. Arapaho (8) 

Price: $71.00

The Bjorn Baker-trained gelding kicked off his Sydney Cup campaign in the Apollo Stakes just as he did last year.  

It was a similar effort to 2023 and while the seven-year-old performed well first-up, he is not a realistic winning chance over 1600m in this event.   

Watch for last year’s Group 1 Tancred Stakes winner in races over 2000m and further later this preparation. 

4. Buckaroo (1)

Price: $11.00

Chris Waller would have been encouraged by the first-up performance of the import in the Apollo Stakes.  

The son of Fastnet Rock was held up in the straight and was forced to check off heels and get to the outside but once clear with 100m to go, he let down powerfully to finish fifth by 3.23 lengths.  

While that was his first start for Waller, it wasn’t his first race in Australia with the former Joseph O’Brien-trained galloper finishing an inconclusive seventh in last year’s King Charles III Stakes before a fifth place in the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes.  

The market has not missed his first-up run, marking him on the third line of betting.  

He will strip fitter second-up and enjoy the rise in distance plus he has the benefit of the inside barrier.  

Despite that, he looks to be running for second behind his more illustrious stablemate.  

I will be keeping a close eye on how he fares with an eye on races for him during the Sydney Autumn Carnival over longer distances. 

5. Just Fine (2) 

Price: $8.50

The six-year-old gelding created quite an impression in his first preparation for the Waterhouse Bott stable during last year’s Sydney Spring Carnival.  

He wasted no time settling in, winning a Benchmark 94 Handicap over this course and distance with ease.  

The son of Sea The Stars then led all the way in Group 3 Kingston Town Stakes before adding a Group 1 title to his name with a nose win in The Metropolitan.  

Unfortunately, things went amiss when he went to Melbourne for the Caulfield Stakes and he was spelled.  

He makes his long-awaited return in Saturday’s Verry Elleegant Stakes following two encouraging trials.  

While I don’t think he can win, what he can do is give plenty of cheek in front and if left alone he looks well placed to run a drum.   

6. Navajo Peak (4) 

Price: $61.00

The John Thompson-trained gelding defied market expectations when running a bold race for fourth in the Apollo Stakes.  

He will take benefit from the run and improve second-up just as he did last preparation when winning the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes where he defeated Think It Over.  

The son of Territories would need to rise to a new level if he was to turn the tables on the likes of Fangirl and Just Fine who have regularly beaten him. 

7. Lindermann (5) 

Price: $14.00

As many did in this race, the Chris Waller-trained four-year-old gelding resumed in the Apollo Stakes.  

Unfortunately, it was hard to get a guide on his sixth placing given he raced in confined space and was held up late when probably having something to offer.  

The son of Lonhro is yet to win over this course and distance in five starts, he did finish second in last year’s Group 1 Randwick Guineas and fourth in the Chelmsford Stakes.  

He is the youngest horse in the field and has upside but whether he is up to defeating his stablemate Fangirl at this stage of his career is doubtful.   

8. Athabascan (8)

Price: $201.00

The rank outsider of the field and only horse at triple figure odds.  

It’s hard to make a case for the John O’Shea-trained gelding who resumes here and has never won in four first-up races.  

Last preparation he won the Listed CTC Cup and Group 3 Colin Stephen Quality back-to-back when deeper into his preparation and over further.  

He needs easier. 

9. Fangirl (10) 

Price: $1.45

There will only ever be one Winx and no horse can compare, but this daughter of Sebring is doing her best to be next mighty mare in Australian racing.  

It seems fitting that the five-year-old is trained by Chris Waller, the man that put the polish on Winx.   

She returns for her second tilt at the time-honoured feature after running a super race in last year’s edition when finishing second to the weight-for-age king Anamoe by 1.29 lengths.  

In the past year, she has added two Group 1 titles to her resume with strong wins in the Winx Stakes and the King Charles III Stakes.  

However, her most impressive win came last start when resuming in the Apollo Stakes.  

She flew past her rivals like they were standing still with jockey James McDonald, who has won the past three editions of this race, noting that the 2.39 length win felt like an exhibition gallop.   

On the strength of that impressive victory, she has been installed as a $1.50 favourite and it is very hard to argue that isn’t a fair price.  

The way she decimated many of the same horses in the Apollo Stakes that she will face here, it is fair to say that only bad luck from the outside barrier will cost her another Group 1 title. 

10. Atishu (7) 

Price: $31.00

The Chris Waller-trained daughter of Savabeel is dual accepted for the Group 2 Blamey Stakes at Flemington on Saturday so it will be interesting to see which way the master trainer goes. 

She resumed in the Group 1 C.F. Orr Stakes and never fired a bullet, settling last and passing just the one runner in the home straight. 

The six-year-old mare would need to improve to be any sort of hope in this race but has it in her to do so, most notably winning the Group 1 Queen Of The Turf over this course and distance when second-up this time last year. 

Personally, I would go to the Blamey Stakes but who am I to question Chris Waller? 

The Judgement

Just as Anamoe was hard to go past in last year’s Verry Elleegant Stakes, red hot favourite Fangirl looks close to a good thing in 2024.  

She was ultra-impressive in winning the traditional lead up race, the Apollo Stakes, with ‘JMac’ suggesting there was an abundance left in the locker.   

The price on offer isn’t a spoil but he should simply be too good, even with the disadvantage of the outside barrier.    

The market looks spot on but for those looking for a better collect then you could do worse than playing a Same Race Multi with Fangirl to win and Buckaroo and Just Fine to both finish Top 3.