The Chris Waller-trained Atishu made up ground from the back in an explosive performance that went against the day’s trend of front-running winners to score an impressive upset in the Group 1 $3 million Champions Stakes (2000m) to finish up elite level racing for another Melbourne Cup Carnival.

2023 Champions Stakes winner Atishu

2023 Champions Stakes winner Atishu was too good making up late ground to explode home in the Group 1. Photo: Steve Hart.

Waller opted to give his six-year-old mare the chance against a well-credentialed field in the marquee Stakes Day race at Flemington over an easier assignment in the Group 2 Matriarch Stakes (2000m).

She would have been a moral in the Group 2 but as it turned out she was a brilliant upset winner in the Group 1 coming from off the pace to hit the front a furlong out and sprint home for a 1 3/4 length success off a perfectly timed ride by James McDonald.

Atishu was on the quick back-up after a brave second on Derby Day in the Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes (1600m).

Relishing another run at headquarters over further with the fitness edge she was able to go one better and further frank the form out of that race following Pride Of Jenni completing the Empire Rose – Champions Mile double on successive Saturdays for the Maher/Eustace stable.

Favourite in Champions Stakes betting was the UK raider West Wind Blows who was down in distance off a second to subsequent Melbourne Cup winner Without A Fight in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) last month.

Jamie Spencer read the lay of the day and attempted to steal the show whipping his mount round the field to lead.

West Wind Blows was gone at the top of the straight however as the challengers came.

In the end it was the eye-catching Atishu coming away victorious at $8.50 while jockey Damien Oliver ran second on the Edward Cummings-trained Duais in his final Group 1 ride at Flemington before his pending retirement at the end of the spring.

“Horses don’t run that well and not win, so to run second behind a horse (last week) that franked the form in the previous, when I walked out to Chris for the instructions I said, ‘we’re on a winner, I reckon’,” McDonald told after riding Atishu to victory.

“We’ve just got to do the little things right and get the splits when we need it. She was fantastic, unbelievable.”

Young Werther was excellent in another Group 1 placing finishing third at $51 just ahead of the Annabel Neasham-trained nine-year-old Zaaki who finished fourth after momentarily looking a chance at a third straight win before getting run down.

2023 Champions Stakes Results 

Finish No. Horse Trainer Jockey Margin Bar. Weight Penalty Starting Price
1 10 ATISHU (NZ) Chris Waller James McDonald 5 57kg $8.50
2 9 DUAIS Edward Cummings Damien Oliver 1.75L 3 57kg $7
3 3 YOUNG WERTHER (NZ) Danny O’Brien Billy Egan 1.95L 6 59kg $51
4 1 ZAAKI (GB) Annabel Neasham Ms Jamie Kah 2.05L 10 59kg $4.40
5 7 BUCKAROO (GB) Joseph O’Brien Blake Shinn 2.15L 8 59kg $26
6 11 PROWESS (NZ) Roger James & Robert Wellwood Mark Zahra 2.65L 4 56.5kg $5.50
7 2 HUETOR (FR) Peter & Paul Snowden Kerrin McEvoy 2.85L 11 59kg $61
8 8 MONTEFILIA Chris Waller Michael Dee 3.25L 1 57kg $26
9 4 WEST WIND BLOWS (IRE) Simon & Ed Crisford Jamie Spencer 3.35L 2 59kg $2.80F
10 5 ZEYREK (FR) Michael, Wayne & John Hawkes Ben Melham 4.85L 7 59kg $61
11 6 PINSTRIPED Enver Jusufovic Ben Allen 5.35L 9 59kg $81

Table Credit: Racing Australia.

About The Author

Lucy Henderson

Lucy is an experienced horse racing journalist that has been a crucial member of the team for the better part of a decade. She has taken great delight in covering champion mares Black Caviar and Winx throughout their careers and always has a soft spot for a winning filly.