Six-time Group 1 winner Nature Strip added another notch to his belt at Randwick on Saturday by taking out the fifth edition of The Everest.
The $15 million feature had eluded Australia’s top sprinter in each of the lats two seasons, but the $3.70 favourite managed to get the job done by the narrowest of margins thanks to another superb ride from long-time hoop James McDonald.
“It is the only one that has been alluding him. He’s been a consistent performer all the way through,” McDonald said after the win.
“I think they hit the nail on the head earlier in the week as his last six runs he’s been thereabouts. He’s a Grand Final performer. That is what the trainer is, that is what the horse is and he’s done it today.”
Like always, the son of Nicconi rolled forward from the wide gate and settled back into third on the outside of Eduardo.
When the speed quickened at the turn, McDonald got going on the champion gelding and peeled two lengths clear with the line in sight.
The seven-year-old appeared well on his way to a comfortable win, at least until Eduardo fought back with 100m to spare before the fast-finishing Masked Crusader let down out wide to run a brilliant second.
A four-time winner over 1200m and a two-time track and distance winner, Nature Strip’s form was no question heading into the world’s richest turf race.
His two-length win in the TJ Smith Stakes during the autumn was nothing short of sensational, while his narrow second to Eduardo in The Shorts suggested plenty of improvement was in store third-up on Saturday.
The superstar speedster had also shown in the past that he’s capable of handling wet tracks, but perhaps the big query was whether he could handle the big-race pressure.
“I’m getting a bit emotional for a change. 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,” winning trainer Chris Waller said.
When asked on the small crowd of 10,000 people in attendance, Waller said they definitely played a part.
“I could feel it 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.”
As for the future, Nature Strip isn’t done just yet.
The world’s best sprinter is set to cap off his spring in the VRC Sprint Classic at Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day, where he can now be found as the $3.00 favourite in the Ladbrokes market.
“A break for three weeks and then he goes to Melbourne for the Darley Sprint. That was always the plan,” Waller concluded.
Like he did in the Premiere Stakes only two weeks earlier, Masked Crusader let down beautifully out wide to miss out by the narrowest of margins on the line.
Eduardo showed a real kick for third, while defending champion Classique Legend turned in another brave performance in just his second start since last year’s win.
The 2021 VRC Sprint Classic market courtesy of Ladbrokes is available here.