Home Affairs edges out Nature Strip in extraordinary Black Caviar Lightning

19 February 2022 Written by Andrew Hawkins

It was touted as the sprint of the century and today’s $1 million Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) certainly lived up to that billing as Melbourne Cup Carnival winners and stablemates Home Affairs and Nature Strip fought out one of the most exciting finishes, not just in Lightning history but of any race in recent memory.

The history books will record that the Chris Waller-trained Home Affairs, winner of the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m), prevailed by a short half-head under James McDonald, denying Group 1 Darley Sprint Classic (1200m) hero Nature Strip – ridden by Jamie Kah – the chance to join greats like Black Caviar and Schillaci as a back-to-back winner of Australia’s only Group 1 race at 1000m.

That sounds thrilling enough in itself but it is hardly adequate to describe 56 seconds of sheer drama, competition, adversity and class.

Nature Strip, normally a free-wheeling front-runner, was instead relegated to the rear within half a second of the gates opening after he was bumped by Profiteer and then squeezed out between that horse and his rival to his inside, Eduardo.

That certainly changed the complexion of the race and, when Profiteer darted to the inside approaching the course proper, it allowed Home Affairs an easier, more uncontested lead at the critical point when the tempo was increasing.

Utilising his natural cruising speed, though, Nature Strip was able to get within a length of Home Affairs and, once McDonald and Kah resorted to a drive at the 300m, the head-to-head battle that had merely been a fantasy in the lead-up quickly became a tantalising reality.

At the 250m, it was Home Affairs who was in pole position out in front with Nature Strip under pressure, his task through the middle stages taking its toll. Yet by the clock tower, the crowd roared as Nature Strip eyeballed his young rival, set to record one of the most unbelievable victories that Flemington had ever seen.

Again over the final half-furlong, the momentum shifted time and time. Home Affairs kicked and looked to be have secured supremacy, only for Nature Strip to take yet another dive…and then another.

It was racing at its finest, a true battle of the titans amidst a field of proven gladiators.

A stride before the post, it was a dead heat. A stride after the post, Nature Strip had his head in front. But at the line, the point where in the past champions have become legends, it was Home Affairs who ascended to champion status.

“He’s the new boy on the block, Home Affairs,” Waller said. “It was a bit of a gamble bringing him here today. He raced against the young horses and dominated last preparation and now he’s come back and beaten the best at weight-for-age. So it’s pretty exciting going forward.”

“We’ll look ahead to the Newmarket Handicap now depending on weights and things like that. Normally the three-year-olds get in fairly well, respecting the weight-for-age scale.”

Normally, discussion of Nature Strip revolves around the fact that the mercurial giant had failed to live up to expectations or had not run to his brilliant best. Today, though, it was about how a more mature Nature Strip almost managed to win the sprint of the century despite every obstacle thrown in his way from the moment the gates opened.

Even in defeat, Nature Strip emerged with his reputation unscathed, if anything proving once again that he is the best sprinter on the planet. Home Affairs may have become a champion, but Nature Strip may just have proven that he is a sprinting legend up with the very best this country has produced.

“It was a tragedy from the start with Nature Strip, unfortunately,” said Waller. “Not did he get one knock, he then got sandwiched as well, so for him to recover and run so close, I think it makes it disappointing for the connections but it is great for the horse. He’s a very good horse, as simple as that.”

The Joe Pride-trained Eduardo finished third at his return to Melbourne, while the Leon and Troy Corstens-prepared Swats That ran her customary honest race to land fourth and set up her own bid for Royal Ascot glory, something that may also await both Home Affairs and Nature Strip.

Image caption: Nature Strip and Home Affairs go head-to-head in the Black Caviar Lightning. Credit: Racing Photos