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Graff joins The Everest after dramatic weekend

4 min read

By Bren O'Brien

After a weekend where the markets for The TAB Everest have been turned upside down, the world's richest turf race now has a 3-year-old representative after Graff (Star Witness) was snapped up by Max Whitby and Neil Werrett for their slot.

Whitby and Werrett, who hold a slot with Steve McCann and Colin Madden, confirmed on Sunday that the Kris Lees-trained and Alan Bell owned Graff would be their runner, but there is still one spot left in the race after a dramatic weekend.

The drama started on Friday night when six-time Group 1 winner Chautauqua (Encosta De Lago) refused to jump in a specially convened barrier trial, ruling him out of The Everest and prompting his immediate retirement.

Ninety minutes later, the bubble on Darren Weir's sprinter Nature Strip (Nicconi), who held the ATC's slot, burst when he was one of the first horses beaten in the G1 Moir S.

Weir's immediate reaction in that the 4-year-old was ready for the spelling paddock and that was confirmed on Saturday morning, creating a second vacant slot.

Premiere upset

The drama rolled on in the G2 Premiere S., which featured six Everest slotholders, where the two favourites in The Everest market, Redzel (Snitzel) and Trapeze Artist (Snitzel), failed to make the placings.

The race was fought out between three of The Everest lesser lights, with Santa Ana Lane (Lope de Vega {Ire}) prevailing over stablemate Shoals (Fastnet Rock) and In Her Time (Time Thief).

“Santa we’ll just keep him happy now, he’s probably right where we need him to be," stable representative Sam Freedman said on the triple Group 1 winner after the race.

"Shoals probably had a little bit of improvement to come, she’ll come on for that and both will be right where we need them to be in two weeks' time.”

“Dad has done a fantastic job and full credit to him and the staff at home, it’s a great effort to have two horses in the race.”

“Dad has done a fantastic job and full credit to him and the staff at home, it’s a great effort to have two horses in the race.” - stable representative Sam Freedman on their two Everest runners

Defending Everest champion Redzel, who had missed a run in the G2 Shorts heading into this race, led but was immediately under pressure finishing fifth, while Trapeze Artist seemed to lack his customary turn of foot, finishing fourth. Invincible Star (I Am Invincible) sat outside of the pace and faded to finish seventh, beaten nearly five lengths.

"She only went OK," jockey Stephen Baster said. "I let her go around and sit outside Redzel. She was a little bit quiet. It wasn’t her grand final. Fingers crossed she can bounce back in two weeks.”

"Fingers crossed she can bounce back in two weeks.” - Jockey Stephen Baster on Invinicble Star who was beaten nearly five lengths

Smash on track

Apart from the first three home in the Premiere, the other horse already in The Everest to impress was Brave Smash (Jpn) (Tosen Phantom {Jpn}), who rattled home for second in the G1 Moir S. a run which has Weir very pleased.

"I thought it was terrific," Weir told RSN of the run. "I reckon he's ticking along beautiful. He's in great shape. He's pulled up really well. If you go by how he looks and how he's going compared to last year, I reckon he looks a lot better and I think he's going a bit better."

Brave Smash (blue, black & white check sleeves and cap) finishing second to Viddora in the G1 Moir S.

"Although it will be a very hard race to win, on the way he's going, he deserves his spot in the race anyway."

The mare who beat him, Viddora (I am Invincible), looks the logical replacement pick for the ATC having added her second Group 1 win in some style.

But nothing is guaranteed and the likes of Lees' Le Romain (Hard Spun {USA}), Godolphin's Home of the Brave (GB) (Starspangledbanner) and even Chris Waller's Zousain (Zoustar) remain firmly in the mix.

A decision is expected early this week.