Nature Strip sizzles in Darley Sprint Classic
Champion sprinter Nature Strip reclaimed his Group 1 Darley Sprint Classic (1200m) mantle at Flemington on Saturday with a performance that confirmed his position atop the sprinting ranks in Australia.
Already a six-time Group 1 winner, with victories including the 2019 Darley Sprint Classic as well as this year’s Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) at Flemington, the Chris Waller-trained Nature Strip never looked in doubt, defeating perennial top-flight placegetter Swats That by three and a quarter lengths with last-start Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m) runner-up Bella Nipotina a further length and a quarter away in third.
It was a record-equalling victory for rider James McDonald, who took his tally for the week to nine. That matched the previous best registered by Brett Prebble in 1999 and 2000.
Waller admitted relief that Nature Strip found his best this preparation, including a win in The Everest in Sydney as a lead-in to taking out the Darley Sprint Classic to cap his campaign.
“He certainly is breathtaking,” Waller said. “Last spring didn’t go to plan and his best run of the spring was here when he ran second behind Bivouac. Two years ago we blew them away and he’s been up a while, he’s done a great job.
“His win last start was unbelievable and to bounce off that, he’s done an amazing job. And what more can I say about James McDonald plus my whole team? They do a fantastic job behind the scenes. I’m very proud.
“We will give him a holiday now and find a nice race for him, maybe overseas. I’ve been there twice before.”
For the first time ever, two individual Australian Horses of the Year contested races over the Melbourne Cup Carnival, with 2019-20 champion Nature Strip joined by his stablemate and reigning Horse of the Year, Lexus Melbourne Cup heroine Verry Elleegant. Both were ridden by McDonald.
“I get to ride my favourite mare and now my favourite sprinter all in the space of five days here at this wonderful carnival and for the track to play it so well, good racing and good to see the crowds back, it’s been amazing,” he said. “He’s just been in the zone, he’s been harnessing it. Today, Chris only gave me one instruction - ‘treat it like a Tuesday gallop: four, home two’. As easy as that. Just point and steer.
“We’ve been spoilt for choice over this carnival, they’ve been prepared immaculately. They put good wins together and he’s been no exception. From Great House last week and Djukon who won a Benchmark 90 to Verry Elleegant who won the Melbourne Cup, they’re all here to perform very well and they have.”
Added Waller: “The Melbourne Cup Carnival is as good as it gets. We’re very privileged to be in this position with these horses. We don’t take it lightly. While the emotions get the better of us sometimes we’re very respectful of the support and it is great to be involved.”
Nature Strip took his earnings beyond $16 million with Saturday’s victory.
Image: Nature Strip racing away with the Darley Sprint Classic (Credit: Getty Images)