Second Sprint Classic for Nature Strip

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Australia’s leading sprinter Nature Strip chalked up his seventh Group 1 win as James McDonald equalled Brett Prebble’s record of nine victories during Melbourne Cup Week in the $2 million Darley Sprint Classic (1200m) at Flemington on Saturday.

The Flemington straight has been the scene of many famous Nature Strip victories and his second success in the Sprint Classic will rank as one of his most comfortable.

He won the race in 2019 by 3.25 lengths, finished runner-up to Bivouac, beaten by same margin in last year’s edition and then cruised to a 3.25-length triumph on Saturday as $1.28 favourite ahead of four-year-old mares Swats That ($31) and Bella Nipotina ($14).

Nature Strip (Nicconi – Strikeline) ridden by Mark Zahra leads Houtzen home in the Mitty’s McEwen Stakes (G2) over 1000m at The Valley Racecourse. 8 September 2018.
Photo credit Darren Tindale / The Image is Everything.

Chris Waller was home in Sydney when Verry Elleegant won the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday but after the encouragement of his Flemington staff, led Nature Strip back to scale on Saturday.

“It’s as good as it gets,” Waller said of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. “I’m sorry if I was expected to be here on Tuesday but COVID has been tough for all of Australia.

“Last spring didn’t go to plan and his best run of the spring was here when he ran second behind Bivouac. Two years ago, he blew them away and he’s been up a while – he’s done a great job.

“His win last start (in The Everest) was unbelievable and to bounce off that, he’s done an amazing job.

“What more can I say about James McDonald plus my whole team, they do a fantastic job behind the scenes, I’m very proud.”

“I get to ride my favourite mare (Verry Elleegant) and now my favourite sprinter (Nature Strip) all in the space of five days here at this wonderful carnival,” said McDonald, who has ridden seven winners for Waller at Flemington this week.

“From Djukon, who won a Benchmark 90 to Verry Elleegant, who won the Melbourne Cup, they’re all here to perform very well and they have.

“We’ve been spoilt for choice over this carnival, they’ve been prepared immaculately. They put good wins together and he’s been no exception.”

McDonald was aboard Nature Strip when he won last month’s $15m TAB Everest (1200m) at Randwick and noted how the Nicconi gelding has developed into a complete sprinter.

“It’s a learning curve every preparation we have with him and there’s great expectation with him every time he steps out, that comes with pressure as well,” McDonald said.

“When he’s short-priced favourite we’ve fallen into the trap of worrying about the race too much rather than worrying about the horse. But now, it is completely about the horse and what will be, will be.

“He (Nature Strip) has just been in the zone, he’s been harnessing it. Today, Chris only gave me one instruction. He said ‘Treat it like a Tuesday gallop – four, home two’. As easy as that. Just point and steer.

“We can’t take any run lightly. We have come to Flemington before and expected him to win and rode him probably not so well considering the circumstances but now we’ve got a great handle on him and he’s racing terrifically. He’s just a marvellous horse.”

Nature Strip has raced 34 times for 19 wins and six seconds, with prizemoney now in excess of $16.1m.


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