Nature Strip confirmed his standing as the horse to beat in The Everest next month with a sublime performance in the Concorde Stakes at Randwick on Saturday.
Nature Strip has already won six Group 1 races, more than $8 million prizemoney and is recognised as the world’s highest-rated sprinter – but he could be even better again this spring!
Sydney’s super speedster is certainly a more complete racehorse these days as he demonstrated with his dominant win in the Group 3 $160,000 Concorde Stakes (1000m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Nothing is routine with Nature Strip and he was slow to begin but the seven-year-old is blessed with brilliant speed and quickly dashed through to take up the early lead without James McDonald having to get urgent.
But it was noticeable the big chestnut then relaxed nicely, settled into the high-cruising speed that is his trademark, didn’t over-race like he was inclined to do in the past and his rivals were never going to challenge him in the race to the line.
Trainer Chris Waller was moved to rate Nature Strip’s win at least the equal of any of the chestnut’s previous comeback efforts with the gelding justifying early favouritism at $5 for the $15 million The TAB Everest (1200m) at Royal Randwick on October 16.
“It was one of his better first-up wins,’’ Waller said.
“Wild Ruler and Trekking are decent horses and Wild Ruler was on his back travelling. I actually thought when they topped the rise Wild Ruler was still on the bridle and I thought he might come with us.
“But it was great to see Nature Strip show that acceleration and leave a gap on them.’’
Nature Strip ($1.50 favourite) wasn’t put under full pressure by jockey James McDonald but still zoomed away to win by two-and-a-half lengths, stopping the clock at 56.66s for the Randwick 1000m (last 600m in 32.62s).
Wild Ruler ($5) chased in vain but did well to finish second, with Trekking ($9.50) a half length away third.
McDonald had a ready-made answer when asked if Nature Strip is the best sprinter in the world?
“He is at the moment,’’ the champion jockey said. “He’s come back in tremendous order.
“All the team at home do a good job with him – I can safely say that is the best I’ve ever felt him first up.
“I think the writing was on the wall with his last TJ win when they decided to take him on and that backfired for them. He was able to take a sit and show that lethal turn of foot that he has got but sustain his speed.
“(Today) I couldn’t go slow enough at the furlong. He was just coasting through his gears.
“He is so balanced and in a really, really good frame of mind. You can see it walking around the parade ring, around at the start and walking about after a race.’’
Nature Strip has been beaten the previous two years as favourite in the Concorde Stakes and ultimately led to unplaced runs in The Everest.
But this could be Nature Strip’s chance to win the world’s richest turf race after such a brilliant Randwick return.
“Nature Strip has come back so well, he has had a trouble-free prep looks like he is in for a good spring,’’ Waller said.
“Last year we were making excuses for him but the fact was he was getting taken on by horses that were giving themselves no chance.
“But Nature Strip didn’t have a Plan B, he couldn’t relax. That is the difference between then and now, he can relax whether he is leading or sitting off them.
“He’s an easy horse to train, he’s a lovely horse to work with, an absolute pleasure, a real gentleman and he’s racing like a proper horse these days.’’
The Concorde Stakes has been a good guide to The Everest. Redzel won the double in 2017, The Everest’s inaugural year, and backed up to win both races in 2018.
Crack colt Yes Yes Yes won the 2019 The Everest with Redzel finishing unplaced after winning his third successive Concorde Stakes.
Gytrash won the Concorde last year before finishing third in The Everest behind Classique Legend.
Waller now has the option of running Nature Strip in the Group 2 $500,000 The Shorts (1100m) at Randwick in two weeks time and the Group 2 $500,000 Premiere Stakes (1200m) at the same track on October 2.
But Nature Strip invariably produces his best form third-up from a spell and Waller is likely to give the gelding only one more run prior to The Everest.
“We are only giving him three or four runs a preparation so he is in that Winx sort of zone where he don’t over-race them,’’ Waller said.
“His best runs are third-up so we are hoping that is the case for The Everest.
“We know he has some big races coming up so we will see how he comes through today and keep our feet on the ground, that’s for sure.’’
Wild Ruler has emerged as a possible The Everest contender after working home well for second.
“It was a super effort by the horse today,’’ said Sam Clipperton, rider of Wild Ruler.
“Going into a high pressure race like that off one trial, he’s fought off Trekking for second and was strong through the line. Will take a stack of improvement and in for a good prep.”
Kerrin McEvoy, rider of Trekking, said the Godolphin sprinter has returned in good order as he prepares for a third The Everest bit.
“A great run by Trekking. He showed he’s got his enthusiasm for the sport still and will only improve off that,’’ he said.