Nature Strip further cemented his status as Australia’s top sprinter by defending his TJ Smith Stakes crown in triumphant fashion at Randwick on Saturday.
The now six-time Group 1 winner went up as the $3.30 favourite in Ladbrokes betting earlier in the week, a price punters were happy to jump on ahead of his final duel with second-elect Bivouac.
While plenty thought the Godolphin gelding could pounce from midfield, the TJ surprisingly turned into a two-horse race between Chris Waller’s champion speedster and last fortnight’s brilliant Galaxy winner, Eduardo.
The latter crossed Nature Strip’s path early to take the front, while James McDonald chose to remain patient behind.
Both drew clear from the rest of the field coming into the straight, but with plenty left in reserve, Nature Strip managed to draw clear at the 250m mark to win by a comfortable two lengths.
“Just total control of the race. Full credit to James (McDonald), who’s continued to work this horse, as have my team who did a great job day in and day out,” Waller told Channel 7 after the race.
Nature Strip has shown a tendency to over-race throughout his career, but the steady hand of McDonald proved the trick as the pair settled beautifully.
Now joining Chautaqua and Black Caviar as the only multiple winners of the TJ, Waller went on to say Nature Strip deserves his status as one of Australia’s best sprinters.
He’s a beautiful horse. His nature is genuine around home, and even on the training tracks he’s come a long way,” Waller said.
“On race day he’s a man possessed, but he’s now got extra gears that he can use to his advantage, and when you’re taking on some of the best sprinters in the world as we have here in Australia, you need to do things right, and he’s certainly done that today.”
Bivouac, like the rest of the field, failed to make up ground in the late stages in what was his final race before venturing to Royal Ascot.
William Reid Stakes winner Masked Crusader also made up huge ground to grab second right on the line.