The first major of the Sydney season has produced an epic battle between an established star and a new kid on the block.
Mo’Unga has upstaged glamour mare Verry Elleegant to claim the Winx Stakes and give Annabel Neasham the third Group 1 win of her fledgling career.
Ridden by Tommy Berry, Mo’unga stalked Verry Elleegant in the run then peeled off her back and outmuscled the typically brave mare in the fight to the line to get the decision by a half-neck.
Stayer She’s Ideel flashed home from last to grab third in an eye-catching performance ahead of a wall of a horses, including Japanese import Keiai Nautique (fourth) and Doncaster Mile winner Cascadian (fifth).
Neasham only took out her trainers’ licence at the start of last season and Mo’unga was her first Group 1 winner in the Rosehill Guineas but to see him come of age against the older horses brought her close to tears.
“I’m a bit emotional actually,” Neasham said.
“He looked the winner a long, long way out. He came up outside Verry Elleegant and I knew he was going to be in for a tough battle as she’s such a fighter as well.
“He’s improved a hell of a lot from three-year-old to four-year-old.”
Neasham will let the dust settle before determining what path she follows with Mo’unga this spring.
She also has boom galloper and early Cox Plate favourite Zaaki nearing a return.
“I don’t know where we will go from now, but I think we are going to have a fun spring,” Neasham said.
Verry Elleegant’s jockey James McDonald said the mare lost nothing in defeat.
“Good return. She tried very hard,” McDonald said.
There was a sombre postscript to the Winx Stakes (1400m) with Brandenburg euthanased after suffering a serious leg injury in the final stages of the race.
His rider Rachel King hit the deck when he stumbled near the 50m and was treated by paramedics before walking back to the jockeys’ room uninjured, although she was stood down from her remaining rides as a precaution.