Star Aussie sprinter speeds to Royal Ascot triumph



Australian super horse Nature Strip has pulverised a world-class field at Royal Ascot, proving himself again the king of the sprinters.

Trainer Chris Waller’s Everest winner underlined why he’s rated the world’s best sprinter as jockey James McDonald drove the seven-year-old to an emphatic victory in the King’s Stand Stakes at Britain’s royal meeting on Tuesday (local time).

It was a devastating display from the eight-time Australian Group 1 winner, who began as 9-4 second-favourite in the stand-out international clash with the more-fancied American dual Breeders’ Cup winner Golden Pal.

It turned into a mismatch with Golden Pal missing the break while Nature Strip, not the sharpest out of the stalls either, took control 400 metres from home before powering away to win by four-and-a-half lengths.

“He’s just an absolute freak of a horse,” declared McDonald.

His only concern in the 1000-metre sprint was a loose horse Khaadem, who’d left his jockey stranded after a problem in the stalls, looming up alongside.

“That riderless horse gave me a fright. I thought, ‘how has one gone with him?’,” McDonald said.

“I saw the American horse charge through too and at the [400-metre] pole, and I thought, ‘are you going to come?’, and he had no response, and away went Nature Strip.”

McDonald reckoned Nature Strip, winner of the $15-million Everest at Randwick last October, had again “silenced a few critics”.

It was only the seventh Australian winner at the world-famous festival and Waller’s first after finishing runner-up in Diamond Jubilee stakes with Brazen Beau in 2015.

“It was breathtaking,” said Waller, after watching Nature Strip finish way clear of Twilight Calls (11/1) and Acklam Express (200-1).

“It means a lot. We don’t get a chance to come up and race against English, Irish, French and American horses, so to be able to bring a horse all this way and to win the way he did, it was pretty special.

“He’s a very good horse for a very long time. He’s in the twilight of his career but he’s just learned to be a racehorse now. He was a tricky horse early on but he’s got better with his years, he’s matured.”

The trainer of the great Winx reckoned that it had been an important day for Australian racing, 10 years since the great Black Caviar had also won at Royal Ascot.

“It’s very important to showcase them (Australia’s best horses) internationally,” said Waller, after the gamble of bringing his charges on a 40-hour flight from Australia, with stops in Singapore and Dubai, paid off handsomely.

“Obviously, Australia’s got a huge racing industry, breeding industry. Ratings stack up – Nature Strip’s one of the highest-rated horse in the world but until you do it on the main stage, it’s another story. It’ll just remind everyone how strong we are in Australia.”

Waller, who also has Nature Strip’s stablemate Home Affairs entered for Saturday’s Platinum Jubilee Stakes, must now decide whether to let Nature Strip go for the double in that race. A win there would emulate the achievement of Australia’s first Royal Ascot winner Choisir in 2003.

“We can make a decision later in the week,” said Waller, who, with the Queen absent from her favourite meeting, collected his prize from her son, the Earl of Wessex.


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