The Top 5 Races in Australia for 2021

December 31st, 2021

Australian racing hasn’t been quite the same since the retirement of Winx and Black Caviar, or even the cult sprinter Chautauqua. But 2021 did produce a number of notable horses in Australia, and a number of outstanding races. Here are the top five Australian races for 2021, in chronological order.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II S. (2000m), Randwick, Apr. 17

For the second year running, the Queen Elizabeth S. (G1) was a battle between the Irish-bred English raider Addeybb and the locally-trained New Zealand-bred mare Verry Elleegant. Hopes were high for Verry Elleegant after she beat the English raider for the first time in three meetings in the Ranvet S. (G1) three weeks beforehand. But in a slogging finish off a slow pace, Addeybb reminded everyone of the class that allowed him to win the 2020 Champion S. (G1) at Ascot. Addeybb would later finish second to St Mark’s Basilica in the Eclipse S. (G1) in England, while more was to be heard of Verry Elleegant.

DOOMBEN CUP (2000m), Doomben, May 22

When he arrived in Australia at the beginning of 2021, Zaaki was just another English import trying to find his way. He’d won four times from 21 starts, two of them at Group 3 level. But he seemingly became a different horse when Annabel Neasham took over his training. After two nice runs at Randwick, a trip to Queensland transformed him. He won the Hollindale S. (G2) nicely, and then came out for the Doomben Cup (G1) two weeks later and put up an awesome performance to win by seven lengths. He subsequently won three of his four spring starts and might well have won the Cox Plate (G1) had injury not forced him out of the race.

THE EVEREST (1200m), Randwick, Oct. 16

Nature Strip had been arguably the best turf sprinter in the world since 2019 when at his best. Unfortunately, he could also be inconsistent, and in two previous attempts at the world’s richest turf race, The Everest, he’d failed to run in the first three. But 2021 would be his year. Breaking from the gates quickly, Nature Strip had the lead early on and then shrugged off the high-class three-year-old Home Affairs at the top of the stretch and went clear. He tired in the final half-furlong, but had just enough in hand in a fantastic finish to narrowly hold off Masked Crusader, who put up a Chautauqua-like finish from last on the turn. After winning the Darley Sprint Classic (G1) Nov. 6, Nature Strip ended 2021 with a record of 19 wins from 34 starts and A$16,155,785 ($11,715,000) in career earnings.

CAULFIELD CUP (2400m), Caulfield, Oct. 16

The feel-good story of the year in Australia came via Incentivise, a horse nobody would have picked as a contender for anything early in 2021. Raced and initially trained by his breeder Steve Tregrea of Queensland, the four-year-old Incentivise had run just three times prior to April this year. He hadn't finished better than sixth in those races, and he was a 16-1 shot when he won his maiden Apr. 11.

But it began a run of eight consecutive victories, including two Group 1 triumphs, leading into the prestigious Caulfield Cup (G1). Very short in the market at 13-10, Incentivise stayed handy before dashing away in the stretch for a four-length victory, the largest in this race since 1997, and he looked a great chance to become the 12th horse to win the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup (G1) double.

MELBOURNE CUP (3200m), Flemington, Nov. 2

At one point it looked like Incentivise would be the shortest-priced Melbourne Cup favorite since the immortal Phar Lap in 1930. In the end he started at the still-short 19-10, the shortest-priced favorite since 1971, and he looked a great chance at the top of the stretch as he battled with English invader Spanish Mission.

However, he reckoned without reigning Horse of the Year Verry Elleegant, whom he’d beaten two starts prior. The great mare was neglected at 17-1 after a modest third in the Cox Plate 10 days beforehand, but trainer Chris Waller had her peaking on the day and she relaxed much more than usual in transit. She powered to the front and ran away for a four-length win of her own, an outstanding effort under 57kg, the highest weight carried by a mare to victory barring three-time winner Makybe Diva. It was Verry Elleegant's 10th Group 1 win, and probably her greatest performance yet.