Champion trainer Chris Waller will often say Winx has made things easier for him as he heads into carnival time. She was incomparable – but the next best on the long list of outstanding horses to grace Waller’s Rosehill stable step out at Randwick on Saturday.
While they will never gain the public attention of Winx, Verry Elleegant and Nature Strip draw and divide punters’ opinion in ways few horses can.
Nearly always starting as favourites, the pair probably don’t step over the line from outstanding to champion.
They don’t carry the expectation of Winx, although both will again start favourites in their respective tests in the George Main Stakes and The Shorts on Saturday, it would not be a shock to see them beaten.
“Winx made it easier for me because you can enjoy these horses now,” Waller said. “I have learned to trust in my systems, and you know when you have good ones because we have something to measure them against. But it would be unfair to put any horse up against her
“Verry Elleegant and Nature Strip are up there with the best like The Autumn Sun and others that I have trained, their records tell you. They are still getting a bit more trackable and relaxed, which is making them better.”
Both started their careers with other trainers, but it is under Waller’s system that they have flourished. Each has won around $8 million under Waller’s eye, with Verry Elleegant an eight-time group 1 winner and Nature Strip six times in the top-level winner’s circle.
That is more group 1 wins than any horse other than Winx out of the Waller yard.
Nature Strip and Verry Elleegant have been the horses of the year in the past two years, but the master trainer is thinking about career peaks this spring when many would be retired.
Verry Elleegant will start favourite again for the George Main Stakes after just being run down by Mo’unga in the Winx Stakes to start her preparation. The mile is a trip where her stamina can be an asset and her ability to relax should have her close enough to strike.
“Her group1 record speaks for itself and I think longevity tells us a lot,” Waller said. “She just keeps coming back year after year. This year doesn’t seem to be any different.
“She is a touch more tractable now, we saw that last start where she could take a forward position and settled all right. She is a very good horse but that just adds another string to her bow.”
Verry Elleegant is around the even-money mark against eight rivals, including stablemates Kolding, Star Of The Seas and Hungry Heart.
Kolding sits fifth on the prizemoney earners list, such has been the boon in stakes in the past couple of years. He defends his George Main crown from 12 months ago when he rode the speed and was too strong. It is a playbook that Waller will use again.
“Most of his better wins and better runs have been when he has pushed forward, especially in the All Aged Stakes and George Main last year,” Waller said. “He will be up there again.
“Verry Elleegant won’t be far away and Hungry Heart is probably the forgotten one, especially if it’s a good track.
“She needs good ground to show her best, I think you saw that in the Phar Lap Stakes in the autumn. She beat the boys that day with something in hand, which showed she has the speed for the mile.”
Nature Strip is a $2.20 favourite for The Shorts, which will be his final lead-up for The Everest. It is by design that he had the Concorde Stakes breeze up, which jockey James McDonald described as a third barrier trial, before stepping up to 1100m.
He has been vulnerable second-up in the past, only winning twice in seven starts, but it’s the run he needs to be at his top on Everest day.
“He gets better and stronger as he gets into campaign, even last spring when nothing went right his last run was his best run in the Darley up the straight,” Waller said.
“It is good that he has had that run and I feel more confident going into this race because he has had the run [winning the Concorde Stakes].