Verry Elleegant takes teen on ride of a lifetime

Connor Harrison

By Leigh Phelan

When Verry Elleegant bolted home in last week’s Gr.1 Melbourne Cup, there was no one prouder than 18-year-old Connor Harrison of Point View.

With a small share in the now 10-time Gr.1 winner, Verry Elleegant has taken the Auckland teen on the ride of a lifetime.

“Never did I know she would be a champion like this.” Harrison said. “It is truly overwhelming, and I can’t get my head around it. I keep trying to wake myself up from some sort of crazy dream.”

The journey began when the then enthusiastic eight-year-old wandered over to Nick Bishara’s Ardmore Lodge Stables next to his family home and began helping around the yard.

“I’ve always loved animals, and horses are just beautiful animals.”

“Nick asked me to come down again so I did, and I just loved being around the horses and it has grown into a passion.”

Despite not coming from a racing background, he was instantly hooked on the racing game and even more so when a special little filly by Zed entered the stables.

“She was just beautiful. I would see her from my back door running in the paddock, she was flying and so light on her feet which is what I like to see.”

Her boisterous and flamboyant attitude immediately caught the eye of Harrison, who described her as “Highly spirited.” Her everyday antics didn’t make her the easiest to manage, however the pair instantly connected.

“She was a bit crazy but so am I,” Harrison admitted. “She’s the horse version of me.”

With her from the very start of her career, his first taste of ownership is what racing dreams are made of. When offered a 5% share in the filly by breeder and part-owner Don Goodwin, Harrison admits his parents, and Mum in particular, did not support the idea.

“I kept pushing, she didn’t budge.” He said.

Admitting he somewhat went behind his parent’s back and told Goodwin they had agreed to the deal, a small white lie the cheeky teen doesn’t regret looking back at now.

“She told me she loves my urge of when I really want something, I go for it.”

The agreement was he would pay Don back in prize money, which has now paid off in dividends for young Harrison.

“Don told me ‘I am going to gift you this share but on one term, you need to look after her and give her a kiss every day.’ Which is what I did before she went to Australia.”

“I couldn’t be an official owner due to age restrictions, but Don has made sure that I was always still involved. It’s been a life changing-ride. I’ll probably never have the chance to be involved with another horse like her.”

Verry Elleegant won two of her first three starts in New Zealand for Bishara before being sold across the Tasman, with the Kiwi connections, which includes Harrison, keeping a 25% share.

Now trained by former Foxton resident Chris Waller, the mare has solidified herself as one of Australasia’s very best.

Sired by Grangewilliam Stud’s Zed, who was once serving Clydesdales and a handful of thoroughbred mares for a fee of just $500 on a station farm in Southern Canterbury, has now quickly become one of the country’s most sought after stallions.

With several stakes performers, quality stayers, gritty jumpers and now a Melbourne Cup winner in the form of Verry Elleegant, the journey has been a roller coaster for all involved.

Watching the race within his work bubble at Ardmore Lodge, the first Tuesday of November will be a day Harrison will never forget,

“I honestly felt like I was going to pass out. There were heaps of emotions and I had a good cry.”

Unable to believe the journey the gutsy little mare has taken him on, his passion for the game has well and truly been solidified.

“I just love the thrill of racing. You never know what kind of horses you have and they are all amazing animals.”

Now working full-time for Bishara, the teen has sights set on becoming a trainer himself one day.

“Nick is the best boss anyone could ask for. He has always supported me and has taken me under his wing and got me to where I am today and will be forever grateful for that.”

  • Leigh Phelan writes for Loveracing.NZ