Source: The Daily Telegraph, by Ray Thomas
Nature Strip won The Everest in a heart-stopper as the sprint superstar and trainer Chris Waller had to wait three frustrating years to finally claim the world’s richest turf race.
Chris Waller was certain Nature Strip’s time had not passed and he was right. After three frustrating years, the sprinter finally delivered on Royal Randwick’s biggest stage.
The finish to the $15m The TAB Everest (1200m) was a classic.
The crowd burst into song as Sweet Caroline blared out over the loudspeakers after Nature Strip’s win. This was a racing moment to savour.
Waller, the nation’s leading trainer, often gets emotional after a big race win but his reaction was understandable. This win meant a lot for so many reasons.
“This is right up there,’’ Waller said.
“Everybody in Australia is talking about it (The Everest).
“It’s a big deal. It’s just a great race. It’s captured the imagination of so many people, inside racing and out and what better way to get out of Covid.
“I could feel it (mood) was a little bit different but when he crossed the line it certainly hit home that it’s a big race that’s taking over Australia.”
The Royal Randwick crowd was 10,000-strong – it felt double that size – and they were celebrating as much as Nature Strip’s connections as The Everest was the first major event in Sydney since the end of lockdown.
The Everest, the world’s richest turf race, produced an epic as Nature Strip ($3.70 favourite) held off the late surge of Masked Crusader ($12) to win by a long-head with Eduardo ($4.20) a half neck away third. The race was full of highlights including:
■ Nature Strip’s The Everest win took his career earnings to $14,404,6985 to be fourth on the all-time list behind Winx with $26,451,175;
■ Waller becomes a two-time Everest winning trainer after his success with Yes Yes Yes in 2019;
■ The Everest placings was a repeat of the top three finish to the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes earlier this year – Nature Strip again defeating Masked Crusader and Eduardo;
■ Classique Legend, last year’s winner, ran a game fifth, a nose behind Lost And Running, and;
■ Wild Ruler was caught three-wide without cover and faded to run last.
McDonald embraces trainer Chris Waller. Picture: AFP
The Everest was a bonanza for the Waller stable as Nature Strip was selected in the Chris Waller Racing slot and collected a staggering $6.2m first prizemoney cheque.
Masked Crusader was slow to begin again and settled back at the rear of the field.
The Team Hawkes-trained sprinter wove through the field in the straight and charged after Nature Strip to just miss.
The slender losing margin cost Masked Crusader’s connections $3.9m.
But Masked Crusader is a gelding so it is likely he will be back for The Everest next year because, after all, Waller and Nature Strip had to wait three frustrating years to finally win the world’s richest turf race.
Waller praised jockey James McDonald for his brilliant ride after their race plan went out the window early after Nature Strip had crossed in front of expected leader Eduardo.
“James gets this horse to settle and it hasn’t been just this week, it’s been over three years and that horse just connects with him,’’ Waller said.
“Horses run for James. If he was in a formula one car he’d be at the front of the grid
“I thought Eduardo would lead and we’d take a sit but he’s just got such a high cruising speed and I think everyone is cautious of that because if you go to fast they won’t finish it off. The second horse ran a good race and is obviously a good horse.’’
Nature Strip’s connections enjoy The Everest trophy. Picture: Getty Images
Nature Strip has invariably been at his best during autumn because he suffers from allergies during spring but Waller said the seven-year-old retained good health this time right through his preparation.
“No coughs,’’ Waller said asked what the difference was with Nature Strip this spring.
“Last preparation we had a scope down his throat every third day. Every time he raced he was bright but after his races he’d struggle. He was constantly on antibiotics.
“You’d get him off antibiotics, ready for a race, try to get him right but it was all too much.’’
Even though Nature Strip is mow a seven-year-old, the chestnut is racing better than ever and had not missed a top two finish all year. Waller was confident the sprinter’s time had not passed.
“The way our team runs, we don’t over-race them. He basically has three or four runs each prep and he has a holiday,’’ Waller said.
“He will have a break for three weeks and then he goes to Melbourne for the Darley Sprint. That was always the plan. The owners in Melbourne haven’t had a chance to see him, no-one’s had a chance to see him.
“He got the highest rating sprinter in the world for a reason and that gave me some confidence. He’s probably justified it today.”
Originally published as The Everest: Nature Strip finally delivers in the world’s richest race on turf