Waller ace Nature Strip runs riot in TJ Smith Stakes but Royal Ascot unlikely
The Chris Waller-trained Nature Strip confirmed his status as arguably Australia's top sprinting talent with a devastating victory in the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick on Saturday.
A tilt at Royal Ascot had previously been mooted by connections but it appears the wide-ranging implications of the coronavirus crisis will likely foil a 2020 bid at the meeting for the now four-time Group 1 winner.
Ascot's director of racing and public affairs Nick Smith had previously described the ultra-talented five-year-old as "definitely the top target this year" in terms of the organisers' international wishlist for the royal fixture.
Black Caviar claimed the TJ Smith Stakes twice during her outstanding career, and on Saturday Nature Strip delivered a vintage performance of his own when winning by two lengths under James McDonald.
Nature Strip raced with huge enthusiasm in the early stages, and soon took control of affairs on the front end.
The response to McDonald's urgings in the straight were highly impressive, and Nature Strip never looking like being beaten as he mastered a classy field that included eight individual Group 1 winners.
"He was waiting for me to click him up, he went through his gears really well," said the winning rider. "From about the 800m I felt like he was airborne from there and he was high steaming from the top of the straight."
"He is just a gem," McDonald added. "You can see how quiet he is. I think he just likes a bit of racing. Once he gets a bit deeper into his prep he loves stable life with the Waller camp. He is doing a marvellous job."
Asked where Nature Strip sits in terms of best horses he has ridden, McDonald said of the somewhat enigmatic performer, who has been beaten as favourite on seven occasions: "It is a love hate relationship. He is definitely well up there and it is a privilege to be a part of him."
Waller, famous for his handling of wondermare Winx, revealed the A$14m TAB Everest on October 17 could be high on the agenda for his star sprinter.
"I’d say there’d be plenty of people chasing him in The Everest and that’s a big race," the trainer said. "After today’s dominant win I doubt we’d need to go to the All Aged [Stakes], we don’t need to be greedy."
He added: "It’s an amazing race to watch when you’re training him, especially in a great field of sprinters.
"The best sprinters I would say around the world are assembled here today at Randwick and we’re very grateful to be still racing safely and doing it all responsibly, that’s just as rewarding in itself."
Waller's sole previous Royal Ascot representative came when Brazen Beau was just denied in the 2015 Diamond Jubilee Stakes by Undrafted.
"I just think he’s an amazing horse," he added of Nature Strip. "First up he’s always a little bit soft and he showed that this prep but since then he’s been on his A-game and James does a great job with him."
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