Chris Waller thrilled as Nature Strip breaks Group 1 duck in Galaxy

Nature Strip silenced his knockers by winning his first Group 1 race at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday in a thrilling finish over Pierata.

It was Chris Waller’s third Group 1 success of the day after The Autumn Sun and Winx scored popular wins, and the champion trainer was grinning from ear-to-ear after Nature Strip held on in a photo finish.

“It’s one of the those feel-good wins where there’s nowhere near as much pressure as there is with The Autumn Sun and Winx,” Waller said.

Nature Strip has won some races brilliantly but also flopped in a couple as a well-backed favourite. But the punters were cheering as James McDonald got the $4.20 favourite over the line and Waller knows he’s still a work in progress.

Nature Strip firmed from $26 to $11 for the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) on April 6 at Randwick and if he can improve him further, Waller wants to show him off on the world stage.

“I’m just trying to get him to relax and enjoy his racing,” Waller said. “He’s a laid-back horse. You wouldn’t think he was one of these horses that jumps, charges and can’t control it. He’s far from it.

“I’d love to take him to Ascot for the King’s Stand Stakes (1000m in June). It’s the perfect race for him fresh and he might be a stablemate for someone.”

Waller was hinting at The Autumn Sun there.

“The crowd earlier in the day, that was special to me. It was a Slipper day of years gone by,” he said. “But never walk away on a racecourse thinking you own it because it will change pretty quickly and Winx isn’t going to be here this time next year. I hope The Autumn Sun is.”

McDonald praised Waller for getting the sprinter to win a big race, but his ride was just as good after taking him to the front from a wide gate.

“The team has done an amazing job. From the first time I sat on him he felt like a really good sprinter,” McDonald said.

“Things don’t really go his way and he makes it hard for himself. He sprung the gates really well and I just sat on him like a quiet church mouse. I thought the give in the ground would be to his assistance and it was.”

Everest champion Redzel ran eighth but jockey Kerrin McEvoy said punters shouldn’t dismiss him for the TJ Smith Stakes.

“We copped a bit of a bump at the 600m which just put us off stride and wasn’t able to regain his ability to travel in that ground and get back into the race,” he said. “He’s much better than that. He pulled up fine and we’ll push on to the TJ.” –