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Image: Steve Hart
Everest favouritism will be up for grabs when six of the leading hopes clash in a thrilling renewal of the Shorts

Chris Waller is taking a fresh approach to Nature Strip’s Everest campaign – literally.

The multiple Group One winner is a surprise acceptor for the Group 2 Shorts (1100m) at Randwick on Saturday when he will clash with five other Everest contenders, including second favourite Masked Crusader and comeback galloper Rothfire.

The speedster had been expected to follow the same path as last year and contest next month’s Premiere Stakes (1200m) as his final lead-up run before Waller’s change of heart.

Despite establishing himself as the country’s premier sprinter, Nature Strip has finished out of the placings in his two Everest attempts and it has prompted Waller to change things up.

Instead of tackling the $15 million race two weeks between runs, he will now have his final lead-up race in the Shorts and head to The Everest off a four-week break.

“The reason for running on Saturday – I just can see how good he is fresh,” Waller said.

“He’s won Lightnings fresh, he won the Concorde last start fresh, so there’s no problem going four weeks between runs.

“It’s hard to play catch up and that’s often what we’ve had to do with Nature Strip, in particular, in the spring.”

Nature Strip resumed with a dominant frontrunning performance in the Concorde Stakes earlier this month, his first start since he claimed back-to-back T J Smith Stakes in the autumn.

Waller said the horse had bounced out of the run and his work since had been strong.

But if there has ever been a chink in Nature Strip’s armour, it has been his tendency to over-race if challenged for the lead.

That trait has brought him undone in a handful of major races but thanks to a combination of hard work, persistence and the horse’s natural maturity, Waller is optimistic that flaw has finally been ironed out.

“He is understanding tactical racing and he didn’t have that,” Waller said.

“He can take a sit off other horses (now), he can lead if he has to.

“Horses were taking him on last prep. If they want to take us on again, we’ve got Plan B.”

Nature Strip was a $2.30 TAB fixed odds favourite for the Shorts on Thursday, ahead of Masked Crusader ($4.60) who also has a run on the board having posted a barnstorming first-up victory at Caulfield.

Rothfire will be racing for the first time since breaking down in last year’s Golden Rose and is being kept safe on the third line of betting at $5 with Lost And Running ($7.50) and Eduardo ($8) also under double-figure odds.

 
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